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Sixth grade could return to Scituate's middle school

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  January 17, 2014 04:08 PM

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A committee studying the grade structure at Scituate’s Gates Middle School has recommended including sixth grade in any future plans.

Conducted as part of an ongoing feasibility study of the town’s 98-year-old middle school, the study intended to analyze the present seventh- and eighth-grade configuration and make recommendations for when the school is eventually updated.

On Jan. 23, committee members recommended an expanded option to the School Committee. School Committee members could vote on the recommendation Jan. 27.

According to Gates Principal Sarah Shannon, Superintendent John McCarthy recommended giving the committee members time to digest the materials and to promote the change among parents.

“Gates was a sixth through eighth middle school up to 2004,” said Shannon, a member of the study group. “The only reason Scituate moved the sixth grade out was because it was overcrowded and they were opening up Jenkins [Elementary School]. It was driven by space and not educational philosophy.”

Shannon said the committee - led by former Duxbury Superintendent Susan Skeiber, with participation of teachers, parents, and students – met for four, two-hour sessions, discussing the pros and cons of each option and analyzing various middle school teaching philosophies.

“We also talked with other towns in the state, a handful, about what they do,” Shannon said.

The biggest drivers for change included increased learning time at the middle school (990 hours compared with 900 hours at the elementary level), and more course-specific teacher certification.

Including sixth graders would give them access to exploratory courses such as robotics, offers a bigger social component by combining the entire district’s grade into one building, and would help ease space constraints at the elementary schools.

“None [of the elementary schools] would be underutilized, but utilized appropriately,” Shannon said.

Although the recommendation would not be suitable for the current middle school building, Shannon said the determination doesn’t automatically mean the district will build a new school.

“It just says of the 11 options that the feasibility study is supposed to look at, we’re hoping that the School Committee [will recommend] …one of the ones that brings sixth grade back in,” Shannon said. “It still could be a renovated Gates facility, if they could figure out how to renovate it so it fits sixth through eighth. It could be another addition/renovation.”

The ultimate suggestions for the middle school plan most likely won’t come until the fall, when school officials hope to receive Massachusetts School Building Authority authorization to move forward with a the design of a specific option.

“We still have a ways to go,” Shannon said.

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