Where does sixth grade belong?
Are sixth-grade students better situated at the elementary school or, maturity wise, do they belong at the middle school?
That's the million-dollar question because, right now, Clarke Community School District is growing.
The topic of Clarke needing classrooms in the near future was discussed during a Nov. 27 school-board meeting.
Clarke Elementary Principal Brandon Eighmy said there are 100 students in sixth grade this year, and fifth grade is a little less than 100.
"Our primary side is well over 100, closer to 115," he said. "We just added another first-grader today."
Superintendent Ned Cox said, as students head toward the secondary education building, once they get into seventh through 12th grade, they are divided up differently.
He mentioned the importance of keeping class ratios low to aid in education.
"Once we get that many kids to move up in fifth and sixth grade, we have to hire more fifth- and sixth-grade teachers to keep the ratio low," Cox said. "If you don't want to have the ratio be low, they don't need any more space. Just cram them all in the same classroom. But, I think we all know around the table that, you know, you get a better product with kids if you've got a smaller class size."
The issue of classroom space is an elementary-school problem. For the foreseeable future, the middle and high schools have the space needed for continued growth.
To put the difference in class sizes into perspective, the biggest grade in the high school has 106 students. The smallest grade, which is the sophomore class, has 79 students.
According to Eighmy, the elementary school still has some grades that are approximately 100 or less in the middle grades of the elementary school, but the sixth-grade rooms are full.
As for the current preschoolers the school district serves, Eighmy said there will most likely be more than 100 kindergarten students next school year.
This will be the third year in a row kindergarten has had more than 100 students.
In a perfect world, Cox said, the district needs six classrooms and a saferoom added to the middle school if sixth grade is moved to the building. The saferoom could serve as a lunchroom or practice room, as well as a shelter for tornadoes.
Moving sixth grade to the middle school could create more space at the elementary school.
"If you take out five sections of sixth-graders, that helps a great deal, and that building would be kindergarten through five," Cox said.
One of the disadvantages to building more classes at the elementary is it takes up green space that is needed for younger students.
"Elementary kids have to have green space to go out and run or walk and play," Cox said. "You know, so their skin doesn't get too tight. They just have to be outside part of the day, and they need to have that."
Another concern was whether or not are sixth-graders more like middle-school students than elementary students.
Cox said he and Eighmy have had this conversation for the past couple of years, and they both agreed sixth-grade students are more like seventh-grade students than fifth-grade students when it comes to maturity.
Participation in band and chorus was an issue during the meeting. Cox said the move could increase students being involved in those activities or other exploratory classes.
With the potential saferoom at the middle school, it could serve as a lunchroom for sixth through eighth grades and make sure there's a separation between middle- and high-school students.
However, Cox said, the high-school kitchen could still be utilized. This could help the elementary school so students aren't eating lunch in different sections from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
As for funding, preliminary ideas were brought up for discussion. A few of them included saving up for the expense or bonding for it.
"Our bonding capacity is still way below most districts, I mean, we have plenty of bonding ability if we want to," Cox said. "We don't need to, if we pledge our bonds against the statewide savings."
Even if the bond didn't need a vote, Cox added, it would still be wise to put the issue up for a vote.
Still to discuss
Eighmy said, if the board is serious about moving sixth grade to the middle school, there needs to be conversations with parents and the community.
Board member Larry Gibbs said he was interested in feasibility studies, and he's not against the sixth grade at the middle school, but he wants more information about the benefits and cost effectiveness of keeping the sixth grade at the elementary school.
"Don't let the building guide the educational program," Cox said. "Let the educational program guide the facility."
As for the question of when is the space going to actually be needed, the answer was in three years, or for the fall of the 2015-16 school year.
School Board President Gerard Linskens said a tentative plan with administrative and community input needs to be formulated and kept on the facilities priority list, not as an immediate-action item, but on the "radar."