Categorized | Carousel, Opinion/Editorial

Editorial: District should consolidate middle school after transition period

Not long ago, we were introduced to the community members, parents, faculty and administrators who make up the Future Focused Schools Team (FFST). The team was tasked with developing viable models for reconfiguring the district’s current four K-8 and one 9-12 school system in the hopes of “improv[ing] and enhanc[ing] educational opportunities for students while ensuring long-term financial sustainability for the district.”

As you may have noticed, we certainly did, student voices were not included in the committee. It is disappointing that the district is trying to implement a change that will affect current students and students for generations to come without significantly consulting any of them and meaningfully adding their voices to the discussion.

The reasoning for this, according to Superintendent Michael Bregy at the Sept. 12 board meeting, was that having one or two students on the committee would not offer good representation of students’ thoughts. At that time, he also stated that the FFST planned on having focus groups that would communicate with students to gather their input, something that has not happened as of Jan. 23.

In a recent interview, Bregy expressed regrets that students were not as incorporated into the process as he initially envisioned. While it is encouraging to see our student government holding student forums on Jan. 26, it is likely too little too late for this to have a meaningful impact on the board’s decision being made on Jan. 30. And still, the voice of current K-8 students who will be potentially moving schools–the group being directly affected by any decision–is lacking.

No one is saying that parents don’t know their children, or that teachers don’t know their pupils, but it is undeniable that those who know the student perspective best are the students themselves.

We, the Editorial Board, are here to give a student perspective and recommend what we think is the best course of action going forward for the district.

All of us have gone through the K-8 system, most of us since kindergarten, and we represent all four schools: El Rodeo, Horace Mann, Beverly Vista and Hawthorne. However, we are all willing to trade nostalgia for the sake of a promising alternative.

Transitioning into a dedicated 6-8 middle school will be in the best interest of the students, improving the district’s efficiency and educational opportunities. However, we understand the challenges that come with implementing such a momentous decision in a district already in chaos. Therefore, if the board is going to close one school, we are asking that the district go through a transition period of at least one to two years with three K-8s before making the necessary change to two K-5s and one 6-8.

It is obvious that, one way or another, change must happen. In the short term, it is necessary that the district’s budgets show cuts in our 2018-19 school year to be approved by the county and state authorities. In the long term, tasking administrators with taking a red pen to programs every few years is something that will further deteriorate the quality of education at all levels, not just in middle school.

We can’t be surprised that cuts must be made. Student enrollment has been falling in recent years, but staffing levels and operating costs have not adjusted accordingly. It is difficult for them to do so when the decline is spread across all four schools. This being the case, a consolidation of some kind is necessary if any fiscal responsibility is to be maintained.

Our academic rigor and integrity is in jeopardy as well. Resources are being spread too thin trying to teach middle schoolers at four separate sites. We believe academic programming, extracurricular opportunities and student readiness for high school and beyond have suffered as a result.

We are not recommending this change solely out of financial self-preservation; the district’s predicament provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve the education it provides by consolidating into one middle school.

Another thing to consider is the social benefit of consolidation. High school is a big adjustment, especially when you’ve only been to one school throughout your entire student career. Going from an elementary school to a designated middle school, while challenging, will give students a leg up in the more difficult acclimation to the often daunting high school environment.

Additionally, in a K-8 model, you mature each school year with roughly the same 50 to 90 students. While that may be good for social development in middle school, it can have consequences in high school, as you usually keep the same friend group you’ve had for the past several years. With a dedicated middle school, students can more easily create friendships across all four schools before entering Beverly.

Furthermore, enhanced extracurricular programs will be available for students in a dedicated middle school, giving them opportunities to experience a wider range of activities and be better prepared for the extracurricular-based ecosystem that is the high school.

Introducing the student body to these experiences at a younger age will also improve the athletics, extracurriculars and culture of the high school. For example, student-athletes can begin building strong team chemistry in sixth grade, as opposed to playing together for the first time in ninth grade, an advantage that other high school teams currently have over our school.

Extracurriculars, similarly, give students the opportunity to interact with others that hold shared interests. Our time on Highlights has had this effect, and we don’t think this opportunity should exist solely in high school.

Despite the positives of the singular middle school system, the district can’t consolidate overnight. It would be unfair to force families who moved to or stayed inside Beverly Hills for a K-8 model to switch to an unfamiliar school environment on such short notice. Those parents expected a specific school system, and they deserve to at least see their kids experience it for a few years. Beyond that, certain studies suggest that a K-8 development is better for the social and emotional development that is so important during the middle school years.

However, that does not mean change can be completely avoided. Sidestepping the aforementioned cuts means closing one of the K-8s, saving operational costs and improving efficiency. The board must make a decision that will probably not be liked by 25 percent of the community, but is necessary for the overall success of the district.

As is all too clear, the district and community are wholly unprepared to institute a change of this magnitude on such short notice. From the construction that just finished at Horace Mann to the stalled construction at El Rodeo and Beverly, we have seen complications and delays time and time again, many of which the board has not handled as efficiently as it could have. Therefore, how can we expect them to change an entire district school system–one involving a myriad of aspects, such as teachers, administrators, students, facilities and new master schedules–by August?

To move toward the “world class education” that our district claims to provide, we need more time to fully research how to create the best model for our district rather than to rush into a decision based on finances, not on quality of education and experience. The FFST, students, faculty, parents and anyone else who wishes to be a part of the conversation should spend more time working collaboratively to study and research the best possible solutions.

Therefore, we recommend the district close one campus after this school year to provide the cuts needed for our district’s budgets to be approved, and keep the remaining three schools as K-8 models. Then, during a transition period of two or three years, the board can really research and make an informed decision on the future of our district, taking into account the opinions of all affected parties, including students.

If you want more information before you make up your mind, watch the FFST’s presentation during the Tuesday, Jan. 23 meeting, attend the student forums held from 1:10 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26 or read our comprehensive article on reconfiguration, which will be linked here when posted on Jan. 26.

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