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Jackson County, Jefferson schools split elementary grades

POSTED: November 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.
JEFFERSON — Traditionally, elementary schools house grades kindergarten through fifth, but several Jackson County schools are joining a growing trend of splitting elementary grades between two different schools.

In both the Jefferson City School System and the Jackson County School System, there are elementary schools that have been split so that pre-kindergarten through second-graders attend one school, while third- through fifth-graders attend school at another facility.

Last school year marked the first year that the Jefferson City School System separated its elementary students into two separate schools. The decision to split the school was based on several factors, school officials say.

"Jefferson is growing, but it is still small, so having two schools that had both had pre-K through fifth grade was not a good fit for us. We looked at several different configurations before we made a decision," said Sherrie Gibney-Sherman, Jefferson City Schools associate superintendent.

"There’s almost every combination out there that you can think of. We did extensive research and looked to see if there was any correlation between the configurations and student achievement."

After three years of research, school officials finally decided to leave pre-K through second grades at Jefferson Elementary School and to open Jefferson Academy for third through fifth grades.

"We were growing rapidly, and we needed a new building, and this was what was best for us. Before we opened the academy, we had 18 portables with classrooms on the elementary school campus," Gibney-Sherman said.

"Splitting the grades up also freed up more space at Jefferson Elementary School, and we were able to add another pre-K classroom. It is certainly better for the pre-K students if they attend school in the elementary facility because it lets them become a part of the regular school culture early on. We always have a waiting list for pre-K enrollment, but having an extra
classroom helped to reduce the list somewhat."

While there are several elementary schools in the Jackson County School System, only one of those schools has been split into two facilities.

Several years ago, the system opened West Jackson Intermediate School for third through fifth grades across the street from the then Jackson Elementary School. The elementary school’s name was changed to West Jackson Primary School and was designated for pre-K through second graders.

"At the time, we really needed another school because enrollment at Jackson Elementary was pretty high," said Kevin Everson, Jackson County Schools assistant superintendent for human resources and support services.

Because the property for a new school was located directly across the street from the existing elementary school, system officials decided to split the grade levels between facilities instead of dividing the surrounding neighborhood in half, Everson said.

While the grade level separation solved the space issues, Everson says the division has created other issues for the school system.

"Ideally, we wouldn’t have split schools," Everson said.

"Our teachers, especially at the elementary school level, like to plan vertically, and it is difficult for them to do that now since they are in two different buildings. We do our best to get those teachers together, but it’s not always easy to do."

While there isn’t any room for expansion at the primary school, Everson says there is space on the campus of West Jackson Intermediate School to include the primary students, but that measure isn’t being considered by the Jackson County School System.

At one point, the Gainesville City School System also had several elementary facilities that housed only a couple of grade levels, but it has since strayed from that approach.

"All of our elementary schools are now pre-K through (fifth grade), but around eight or nine years ago we had some schools that were split up," said Shirley Whitaker, Gainesville City Schools assistant superintendent.

"But after we added a new elementary school, we decided that for us, it was better to have all of the elementary grades in the same building because it helps teachers get to know their students better.

"If a student starts at a school in pre-K and continues through fifth grade, then that’s seven years in the same school. Having all the grades in the same building just works for us and helps build a better sense of family."



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