Should sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at Fallsburg and Blaine elementary schools be transferred to the Lawrence County Middle School in Louisa? Frankly, we can’t fairly answer that question without some key data from the school district.
How do the students who attended Fallsburg and Blaine through the eight grade compare academically with students from Lawrence County Middle School when they all attend Lawrence County High School?
If there is no measurable difference between how students from the middle school and those from Blaine and Fallsburg perform in classes and on achievement tests at the high school, or if Blaine and Fallsburg students outperform the middle school students, then there is no compelling reason to transfer students from the elementary schools to the middle school.
If, on the other hand, middle school students arrive at the high school better prepared academically than their counterparts from the two grade schools, a strong case can be made for giving children from Fallsburg and Blaine the same academic opportunities as students who attend the middle school.
There is no question state education officials prefer having sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders attend school separate from children in kindergarten through the fifth grade. They contend having all students in the middle grades in the same building gives all students in that age group more educational opportunities than they could receive in an elementary school. For example, brighter students could take more demanding classes in math and science and even classes in foreign languages that they could not get at an elementary school because of not having enough students or having a shortage of qualified teachers.
But do the increased educational opportunities at Lawrence County Middle School produce students better prepared to do well in high school? Without comparing test scores and talking with high school teachers and counselors, we can’t answer that. But we do know the data to provide an accurate answer exists and it should be a major factor in any decision to change the status quo.
There is a vast difference between a 6-year-old first-grader and a 14-year-old eighth-grader. How well such diverse students mingle at Fallsburg and Blaine also should be a factor in any decision to move the older students to the middle school. Another factor should be the cost of transporting sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders to the middle school in Louisa compared to the cost of keeping the three grades at the two elementaries.
For the record, the debate on moving the older students at the two elementaries has been put on the backburner for now because of parent opposition. The district’s local planning committee had been considering a facilities plan that would make the change, but Superintendent Mike Armstrong said, “I don’t think that approach is going to go forward.”
While parents expressed fear that moving middle grades would be followed by closing the schools entirely, that strikes us as remote. Both schools are the center of social life in the two communities and people realize much would be lost if either school were to close.
With the Lawrence County School District expected to lose thousands of dollars in annual taxes with the closing of the Big Sandy Power Plant in 2015, the school district is facing enough challenges without having a controversy over older students at two elementaries. However, if the sixth, seventh and eighth grades remain at Blaine and Fallsburg, local officials can expect state officials to continue to apply pressure to move the middle grades to the middle school. But in the final analysis, any decision should be based on what is best for the students.