Committee works to transition Madison sixth graders into middle schools

MADISON, Ala. - Starting next school year (2018-2019), Madison City Schools will move sixth graders into the middle schools, Liberty and Discovery Middle Schools.

Superintendent Robby Parker said, "It's not just physically moving children from one building to the other. We are not just shuffling the deck. We are changing the entire education process to make it better for our kids."

Madison City Schools wants to handle the transition correctly and give sixth graders the proper support when they arrive at middle school.

That's why the school system has created a Middle School Transition Committee. The 60-member group comprised of administrators, teachers, parents and community members is passing along ideas and brainstorming to help make the sixth graders at home. They met for the first time Wednesday.

Parker said there is a lot to glean.

"We want to know what their curriculum will look like. We want to know what their extracurriculars look like. We want to know, socially, how are they going to intermingle?" he said.

Parker believes the main benefit for the sixth graders will be academic.

"We feel like we are going to give them a better academic opportunity. We are going to be able to offer more classes. We are going to be able to accelerate students. Things we are not able to do right now because of numbers in the elementary schools. So we think academically it is a very good move."

Latoya Eggleston is a parent who also sits on the committee. She said she is pleased with the decision to move the sixth grade.

"I've always felt that the sixth graders needed more exposure than they were getting in the elementary school," said Eggleston. "I've been waiting for this process to happen for a long time. I think it's about time that it did happen!"

Eggleston said she welcomed the opportunity so she can share ideas and have a role in shaping the school system that her two children attend.

Parker said growth was not the prime motivator for the move. But gaining some space in the elementary schools is a bonus. These schools are getting crowded and approaching capacity. Moving the sixth grade will provide some relief.

That would be welcome because of new data from the Madison Growth Impact Committee. When it made its interim report, it indicated that MCS will exceed capacity in middle and high schools by 2025 and all schools before 2040.

The growth committee, in a presentation to the Madison City Council Monday, said "MCS cannot finance a new construction bond before 2029 due to current debt (~$173M)."

The committee knows economic development in Madison and the Tennessee Valley is enhanced by its schools.

Mayor Paul Finley told us Wednesday that this is why finding ways to support the schools is important.

"We need a structured understanding of how to solve a wonderful problem," he said by phone. "We need to determine what do solutions look like and how do you fund that?"

He said that is what the growth committee can contribute. After its research, the city and school system, and their partners, can see where to go to search for funding and what the most immediate needs are. Finley believes coming up with a game plan soon will be crucial.

The growth committee continues to meet to gather data.

"We just want to see, as a group, what it is going to take to continue to offer the level of education and to reach the expectation that we have in the city of Madison and what it is going to look like in the future as our city continues to grow," said Parker.