AREA NEWSThe White Plains Examiner

White Plains Board of Education Overhauls Middle School

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Eastview School
Eastview School

Looking to ease students’ transitions from elementary school to middle school and to improve on standardized test scores that show struggles among some racial and economic subgroups, the White Plains Board of Education voted unanimously last Monday, March 12, turn the middle school’s Eastview Campus into a “sixth grade academy” and devote the larger Highlands Campus to seventh and eighth grade. The move comes after a year of debate and will take effect beginning in the fall of 2013.

“This is an important step for the district, and this is based on a long set of conversations with educators, with parents, with board members,” said White Plains Schools Superintendent Christopher Clouet. “It involved a lot of research. It involved a lot of site visits to come to this proposal.”

While changes to the middle school format in the district have been considered for years, school officials say, the issue started to heat up last year after the New York State Education Department raised the state’s proficiency standards. In 2011, 53 percent of eighth-grade students scored proficient on the state’s English Language Arts examination, including just 44 percent of black students and 38 percent of Hispanic or Latino students.

One possible way to improve these scores, Clouet and school board members believed, was to give students more help in the transition from the nurturing elementary school environment to middle school, where they’re forced to be independent. Devoting Eastview to the one grade allows all the sixth-grade students to transfer together, with their friends, and lets the school district concentrate any resources that may help the transition in one building rather than two.

“We see sixth grade as a keystone grade,” Clouet said. “It’s the grade that’s between elementary school and middle school.”

The change will also allow the district to enact block scheduling in the seventh and eighth grades. There are two main drawbacks, Clouet said. One is the extra transition, as all students will now have to go through both the Eastview and Highlands campuses before starting high school. Also, it’ll mean the end of “school choice,” the current system in which students and their parents can decide entering sixth grade whether they want to be on a small or large campus for their three years in middle school.

“There was always a multiplicity of viewpoints on this. There were always some people who were dead set against the change,” Clouet said. “Over time, I think more people saw the value of this.”

To explore the possible transition, the district established a Middle School ReDesign Steering Committee, led by Clouet and consisting of close to 20 members of the school community. The committee met twice last summer, after which three public forums were held to allow parents to weigh in. Committee and school board members also visited the Elisabeth M. Bennet Academy in Manchester, Conn. to see an established sixth grade academy and talk to some of the administrators and students.

“What were learned was that the kids were absolutely delighted to be in that setting,” Clouet said. “The parents were very happy about it. And what was most important of all is that the kids were performing at a higher level than under the old model.”

The move is expected to be budget neutral, as having students of the grade in the same location allows for a more efficient use of resources.

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