HISD develops K-8 schools

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The Chronicle‘s Jennifer Radcliffe reports that HISD is transitioning some elementary and middle schools into K-8 campuses, hoping to improve academics:

Houston leaders are anxious to add more K-8 campuses but find themselves facing an uphill battle.

Parents in predominately African-American neighborhoods vocally opposed a plan to consolidate several schools in their communities into K-8 campuses, prompting the district to abandon that proposal before last month’s $805 million bond election.

Administrators are still planning to expand the K-8 model to other schools, if they can sell the idea to the community.

Pilgrim and Rusk elementaries already are in the process of expanding, officials said, and HISD is slated to expand Wilson Elementary, a Montessori program, to a K-8 campus next school year. A new school planned to relieve overcrowding at Dowling Middle School might also be configured as a combined elementary and middle campus, said Karen Soehnge, HISD’s chief academic officer.

HISD administrators admit they’ll have to make a better sales pitch. “It’s a foreign concept,” Soehnge said. “It’s not something all people are accustomed to.”

Yet K-8 is one of the most popular models for private schools. It was also the most popular configuration for public schools 100 years ago.

By the 1960s, however, the model had given way to seventh- through ninth-grade junior highs and then sixth- through eighth-grade middle schools — configurations designed to ensure that adolescents had the academic and social opportunities needed to prepare for high school.

Struggling academic performance among today’s middle schoolers is causing the pendulum to swing back toward K-8s. One of the biggest perks, educators said, is that students aren’t tripped up during the disruptive year that they transition to middle school.

By staying on the same campus, kids can focus on academics, rather than being forced to re-establish themselves socially. Teachers are able to establish solid relationships with families. As a result, parents are more apt to stay involved with the campus through the middle school years, experts said.

It’s a very good move. The middle schools years can be a nightmare for many students, and keeping them in a stable, familiar setting, with teachers and administrators who know them could make a big difference, both academically and developmentally. As the story notes, one drawback is that fewer electives or athletic programs would be available in the K-8, but perhaps that issue can be remedied as the program progresses. In the meantime, if these schools can help kids academically, that’ll be a strong selling point for future schools.

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