North Pole parents can decide where sixth-graders go

Posted: Thursday, May 08, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) North Pole parents will get to choose whether sixth-grade students stay in elementary school or graduate to middle school next fall.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough school board unanimously approved the choice Tuesday.

Currently, North Pole is the only middle school that has sixth graders. In all other borough schools, sixth grade is part of elementary school.

Superintendent Ann Shortt told the board that the district surveyed parents of fifth-graders at Ticasuk Brown, Badger Road and North Pole elementary schools earlier this year.

Of the 228 parents surveyed, 62 percent want their children to remain in elementary school for sixth grade, while 30 percent preferred the middle school option. For the other 8 percent, the question didn't apply for various reasons such as families moving out of the area or because parents had no preference.

Board member Gunther Criswell said he strongly supported the change, and would actually favor all sixth-graders remaining at elementary schools.

I thought we missed a chance two years ago to do this,'' he said, referring to public meetings the district held on the issue.

Student representative Bridget Doran also spoke in favor of the change. She said she benefited from being in sixth grade at an elementary school. That year served as a transition to middle school, she said.

I think kids really do need that extra year in elementary school,'' Doran said.

Board President Bart LeBon wondered about how the educational experience would differ for sixth graders in elementary school.

The curriculum will be exactly the same,'' Shortt said. However, she said students in elementary school would have different elective-type courses available.

The change could have some advantages for North Pole Middle School, Shortt said. The school now has a much larger student body than other middle schools, she said. The anticipated enrollment reduction of about 140 sixth-graders next year would bring it closer to the size of the other middle schools.

Several board members allowing parents to choose middle school or elementary school next school year only, then requiring that sixth graders attend elementary school in the following years.

Shortt said she does intend to survey fifth-grade parents regarding their preferences again next year.

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