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White Plains Schools Pitch Sixth Grade Academy

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – The White Plains School District pitched turning Eastview Middle School into a sixth-grade academy and enrolling all seventh and eighth-graders at Highlands Middle School Monday night.

After researching visiting various middle school setups for a year, the White Plains Middle School Redesign Steering Committee opted for a model that would segregate sixth-graders, which Superintendent Christopher Clouet said would improve sixth-graders' transition to secondary education.

"Sixth-grade, by certification, in New York is still an elementary grade, so we want to treat it differently,” Clouet said. “We don't want to coddle students, but we want them to have a safe, supportive sixth-grade. This is about all children. We're saying we're not just going to have advanced classes for high fliers and classes for those who need extra help, we're going to have classes to help the kids in the middle."

White Plains grew concerned after more rigorous state tests implemented in 2009 continued to drag down the district, with 57 percent of eighth-graders qualifying as "proficient" in English Language Arts last year. The Middle School Redesign Steering Committee was tasked with exploring school models to ease students into middle school and improve scores. It opted for a sixth-grade academy because the model would concentrate teachers with sixth-grade specific certifications at Eastview, freeing up enough teachers at both middle schools to switch to a 90 minute "block" class structure. If the board of education approves the plan in March, the sixth-grade academy would begin in fall 2013.

"This will streamline some of the options to give access to everyone," Eastview Principal Joseph Cloherty said of a transition that will extend extracurricular activities, language courses, and externally sponsored programs now only financially viable at one school to both.

The transition would allow seventh-grade teachers to follow students to eighth-grade and more students to enroll in AVID, which assists students on the cusp of advanced courses into more rigorous classes.

Highlands Principal Jonathan Brown also supported the transition, saying he and Cloherty had to "wear two hats" when dealing with sixth-graders and older students.

"I feel very strongly about giving the most," he said. "By asking us to split our duties you’re not getting 110 percent, you’re getting 100 percent."

Parents of sixth-graders, including Stacey McDonough, said they were concerned about their children being thrust into a model still being sorted out by the time they reach eighth-grade at Highlands.

"He would be the first year and it's a new thing. He's the one they'll be figuring stuff out with. Even if it's great, it may take sixth months to get to great," said McDonough, 43, who has a son in seventh-grade at Eastview and a son in fourth-grade at Church Street. "My older son is so much more confident and comfortable with himself because he's at the same school for the second year. They're going to lose that."

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