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Middle school concept front and center
[February 26, 2013]

Middle school concept front and center

Feb 26, 2013 (Odessa American - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- With the transition to the middle school model for Ector County Independent School District just two years away, district staff is opening the conversations early to parents to find out their concerns ahead of moving sixth-graders into schools with seventh- and eighth-grade students.

The change comes as a result of the $129.75 million school bond that passed in November by voters. It provides funding for three new elementary schools and additions to the current high schools to accommodate Odessa's growing population and the middle school structure.

High schools will move to a 9-12 model, following in step with the rest of Texas more than 20 years since ECISD Chief of Staff H.T. Sanchez said the conversation was swirling around ECISD when he was a teacher in the 1990s. Now, with ECISD boasting six of 12 seventh- through ninth-grade junior highs in Texas, it's time to move forward and align the state-mandated curriculum with ECISD's school system.

"We want to get as much feedback as we can," Sanchez said about the meeting Monday night at Nimitz Junior High.

Opening the elementary schools by 2014-15 is an optimistic goal at this point, but it will depend on the hiring of a construction manager, which is expected to be approved at the next school board meeting, Sanchez said.

"If it's possible, we want to be prepared and start the conversation now," he said.

ECISD is asking parents three basic questions and requesting parents email the district with answers if they're not recorded at a meeting.

--What do you like about sixth-grade that you want to ensure stays in the middle schools --What are some things you don't like about how sixth-grade is at ECISD that you don't want to see at the middle schools --What's something new you would like to see While the audience of about 10 parents in the Nimitz library were reluctant to speak for most of the meeting, Sanchez gave examples from parents that he's heard previous to Monday night on what they'd like to see continue; such as that students are known by name in sixth-grade and that counselors work on sixth-grade specific issues.

As for what parents are concerned about, most opinions had to do with that students wouldn't miss opportunities to take rigorous classes and that students were exposed to sport-specific physical education classes. Sixth-graders will not be able to try out or compete on the school's organized teams, not until seventh-grade according to the University Interscholastic League rules.

However, parents would like to see opportunities for sixth-graders to get more exposure with choir, band and the arts at an earlier age.

A few ECISD educators suggested incorporating more project-based learning for sixth-graders and bringing in the new classes while still in elementary school to eat lunch or tour the middle school ahead of starting school there.

Principal Robin Fawcett said "exploratory" electives that are broken into shorter segments are a good idea for sixth-graders as is P.E. geared toward learning skills in sports that students will participate in the following year. A positive for sixth-graders is that they can get to know coaches ahead of trying out and are able to work on skills during class to get familiar with expectations.

Nimitz social studies department chair Amelia Lyons worked in a middle school for 12 years. She said her experience is that sixth-grade teachers really have a sensitivity of "taking students under their wing. It's very positive. We're here to help them bridge those gaps," she said.

Fawcett also worked in several middle schools before Nimitz and commented that there are gaps from sixth-grade to seventh-grade right now, adding that "something happens to kids between sixth and seventh, we all know that," she joked. The move to align the curriculum within the school buildings thanks to the bond money is "awesome and very exciting," she said.

Also discussed: Sanchez did mention the preferred site of the west side elementary school (two will be on the west side, one on the north side): it's located near Kellus Turner Park close to West University Avenue and North Tripp Avenue. He expects the school board to hire a construction manager soon, who will provide a concrete timeframe. The availability of labor is an issue in Odessa and so the progress is dependent on that aspect.

A request to approve that piece of land for the new school site is also expected at the March board meeting. Sanchez said they're discussing trading a parcel of land behind Cavazos Elementary with the count -- which they will add a park to -- for land near Kellus Turner Park.

--Contact Lindsay Weaver on twitter at @OAschools, on Facebook at OA Lindsay Weaver or call 432-333-7781.

___ (c)2013 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) Visit the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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