Sixth grade center to be considered by Jackson County Schools

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By KATIE JUSTICE, kjustice@clickthepaper.com

The Jackson County Board of Education is considering the creation of a sixth grade center to serve as a transitional school between fifth and seventh grades.

“Sixth grade has been identified as a crucial time for the transition of child development to child independence,” said Superintendent Dr. John Green at last Thursday’s Jackson County Board of Education work session.

The establishment of the sixth grade center would allow a focus on student development, while also helping Jackson County become one step closer to the building of a new high school. However, focus would remain on student success.

“Our first priority is maintaining a safe, risk-free environment,” said April Howard, Jackson County Director of Instruction and Improvement, at the Board of Education meeting Monday night. “There’s a big difference between just having turned 12 and turning 14 years old.”

“Rather than re-zoning or expenditures on portable classrooms, grade configurations should be considered that increase opportunities for students as well as improve academic performance,” said Green, who says that West Jackson Middle School (WJMS) currently has five portable classrooms and is expected to need another five next year if nothing changes.

The proposed sixth grade center would be located at what is currently Kings Bridge Middle School. Students from the Maysville, Benton, South Jackson and East Jackson Elementary zones would attend the sixth grade center. Students in this area would attend the current East Jackson Middle School for seventh and eighth grades.

Those from West Jackson Intermediate, North Jackson and Gum Springs would have the choice of attending the sixth grade center or remaining at West Jackson Middle School, which will continue to house sixth through eighth grades. Jackson County currently allows students to choose which schools to attend through school choice, and this would continue with the sixth grade center.

In addition to helping improve sixth grade success, the creation of a sixth grade center is expected to help expedite the process of funding and building the new West Jackson High School.

“There’s approximately $12 million of capital outlay funds that exist at the state level that are earmarked for Jackson County schools. We’re not allowed to access that $12 million until we have 100 percent capacity at our existing schools,” said Green.

“I know this can change. If there’s money sitting somewhere and it’s not being used, or there’s not a plan to use it, sometimes legislators will find a way to move it,” said Green. “So I’m not saying that I don’t fully trust our legislators at the gold dome, but we’re about to go into a legislative session and so at least I would want us to have a plan submitted.”

The establishment of a sixth grade center would help Jackson County schools on the east side reach capacity more quickly, which would enable the school system to access the capital outlay funds.

“The construction of a West Jackson High School would complete a community-centered grouping of schools to serve the families on the west side of the county,” said Green. “This would complete the transition from one centrally located high school to two community-centered high schools. This would also provide flexibility of use of facilities that are centrally located.”

The Jackson County Board of Education’s February work session and meeting will be held at schools within the community, and be followed by a community meeting to further discuss the concept of a sixth grade center.

The work session on Thursday, Feb. 7, will be held at Kings Bridge Middle School at 6 p.m. with a 7 p.m. community meeting to follow.

Then, the Board of Education meeting will take place Monday, Feb. 11, at the East Jackson High School Theater at 6 p.m. with a community meeting to follow at 7.