School Board Discussing Restructuring System

The Charlottesville school board held a workshop about restructuring the school system last night, Henry Graff reports for NBC-29 , about which reader Aileen writes:

I attended the forum last night, and what NBC doesn’t mention, is the fact–confirmed by Rosa Atkins last night—that the school division has complied with changes recommended by the efficiency review, and that restructuring, i.e. closing an elementary school or returning to K-5 elementary schools and two middle schools, is not mandatory. Last night, we listened to remarks by Rosa Atkins and Gertrude Ivory—Ivory’s plan to realign the curriculum with the “real world” and “career skills” was troubling to me, but I don’t know how other people felt. Then we broke into small groups and were given the opportunity to share what we thought were pros and cons of each of the four restructuring possibilities. The meeting ended with each group presenting a summary of its discussion, and Rosa Atkins answered questions from the community.

Rachana Dixit writes about parental fears of the effects of redistricting in today’s Daily Progress, specifically the concern that establishing a second middle school would basically result in a black school and a white school. The school system is trying to figure out if greater efficiency could come of rethinking how we divide up kids between grades and schools, but there’s not yet any commitment to doing anything at all.

17 thoughts on “School Board Discussing Restructuring System”

  1. I want to add a few more details. Gertrude Ivory, in her talk, highlighted research that shows that fewer transitions equals higher GPAs as children get through high school, but Rosa Atkins did say that there isn’t any research about Charlottesville’s unusual grade configurations, or about grade configurations in general. One parent “con” that I heard questioned whether the research on transitions studied students moving up with their entire class, such our students do between Walker and Buford, or transitions involving moving to a new school or having to adjust to a new group of students.

    In my opinion, the transition from Walker to Buford is relatively low stress. The student body is exactly the same and the buildings are nearly identical. The transition from fourth grade to Walker is scary for some children–I have been through it with three of my children and my youngest will start at Walker this fall–but the Walker staff does a good job of helping the children, and I wonder if transitioning as a sixth grader to a school dominated by 7th and 8th graders might be even more traumatic.

  2. Having two middle schools does not have to mean having “one white school and one black school.” All of the elementary schools are reasonably diverse (admittedly, some more than others) and the two middle schools could be configured in such a way that they have similar demographics. Since having the kids in the northern part of the city go to Walker and the ones in the southern half of the city didn’t work so well last time, perhaps going to an east/west divide?

    Oh and like Aileen, I am concerned by Ms. Ivory’s heavy emphasis on realigning the curriculum with the “real world” and “career skills.” Knowing this central office, that sounds like a euphemism to me — possibly that they’re going to cut back on the arts.

  3. One of the coolest suggestions last night was to create two gender-separated middle schools. I’d be all over that in a heart-beat.

  4. I liked that suggestion too. I was also impressed that central office has actually looked into it. According to Ms. Atkins,(for those who weren’t there) single sex public schools are legal in Virginia, but they can’t be mandatory. So if the division offered an all-girls middle school, they would have to offer a coed one as well. Which means it’s unlikely we’ll ever see gender separated schools in Charlottesville, but it’s still a great idea.

  5. I asked Dr. Atkins about that after the meeting. There are two possibilities: either house the co-ed school inside the gender separated one, or enter into a middle-school sharing agreement with Albemarle which has a middle school inside the city limits.

  6. We don’t need gender-separated schools.

    What we do need is single-sex classes in certain subjects — math and English, at a minimum to start — beginning in elementary schools and expanding in middle school.

    As we try to “pretend” our brains are the same and we learn the same way, the facts show girls and boy learn differently and need to be taught accordingly.

    Single-sex education doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Leave the schools “as is,” throw in some single-sex classes and performance will improve.

  7. Walker upper elementary has worked well for my kids and they had no trouble with the transition. Our system in the city gives 5th graders some unique opportunities like music and PE (I remember my daughter learning archery and boat safety). The stats also don’t account for the personel at Walker such as the principle. She is an amazing educator.

    I also think that a 5-6th grade school is a lesser evil than placing 6th graders with 7-8th graders. Along with age difference there is a pre and post puberty element to deal with this population. We have a good system. Our energy should be spent making it work instead of tearing it down and starting over.

  8. First there were Walker and Buford Junior Highs)grades 7-9), then they were renamed Middle Schools(6-8), and finally we came up with ther present 4-tier structure(Elem. Upper elem Middle. High. Hvae not heard of any other place doing that.
    And why does the “diversity ” issie always have to be brought up. This is 2009, not 1959 or 1969. We are diverse, time to stop pretending nothing has changed.
    Am skeptical of the argumument for single-sex classes. Boys are supposed to learn math easier than girls or so the argument goes. But math was always my most difficult,dreaded subject. Would they have let me take math with girls then if such a system had been in place.
    I attended a small rural Va school system, elementary was grades 1-7, high school 8-12, only 300 or so in high school.
    But I got a good basic educationn just the same.We learned grammar and spelling very thoroughly. Are today’s fancier schools doing as well?

  9. I went to an all-girls high school and my husband went to an all-boys high school. One advantage of the single sex learning environment is that students focus more on learning rather than trying to attract opposite-sex classmates. In my experience, it seems that a closer-knit school community develops as well.

    Another suggestion I saw was the introduction of uniforms. I’d support that too.

    Since central office is looking at research about how transitions affect GPAs, it would be interesting to compare GPAs and drop-out rates today, compared with what they were prior to 1988 when we got the school structure we have now.

  10. Would the kids be required to get uniforms that fit? And who exactly decides what does, or does not fit?

  11. I didn’t make it to the meeting, alas, but I do know that other school systems have looked at what works best in terms of school structure. I’m pretty sure I’ve previously presented the findings of the Schenectady Public Schools, who restructured several years ago and put out some of the following (

    “In examining the effect of grade span of academic performance of Connecticut public schools, researchers found that in elementary schools that included 6th grade, students made greater academic progress than those attending traditional middle schools serving grades 6-8 (Tucker & Andrada, 1997).”

    “Schools with broader grade spans combining elementary and middle grades tend to have stronger levels of parental involvement (Hough, 2005).”

    “As grade span increases, so does achievement. The more grade levels that a school services, the better the students perform (Wren, 2003).”

    “Broader grade spans encompassing elementary and middle grades have resulted in schools with smaller, more personal environments, where students are known by their teachers, administrators, and each other (Hough, 2005).”

  12. I think there were about 50 people at the meeting. There were enough of us to break into four groups, and I know my group had at least 15 people in it.

  13. Does anyone remember how much money we spent on consultants who suggested the pairing option last time around and for what reasons. Do we really need to go through that all over again ?

  14. The MGT recommendation that we close an elementary school was the idea that the most community members wanted to explore — so that’s what’s going on. Option 1 is to leave things as they are, so doing nothing is literally the first option. Option 5 is any other suggestion that people come up with & PK – 8 has already appeared in that category. Central office has compiled a bunch of research on grade-level configuration and have links to some on their website:

  15. I went to the meeting also. A couple of things…the meeting did not represent the school’s population. They are having some neighborhood meetings in Westhaven and Friendship Court, but I think it is important to have community wide conversations rather than separate conversations. Ms. Atkins stated they would have such a meeting and provide transportation, childcare (much like they did to parent university) to try to create an environment to reach everyone. My big thing is why fix something that isn’t broken? My question is what will we lose in making changes? I fear the arts will be lost, the small class sizes will be lost, and the neighborhood feel of the elementary will be lost. Charlottesville’s arts programs are so much better than most area schools and I want to keep it that way!

  16. I’m pretty sure it’s the fantastic fine arts program in our public schools that draws students from the county, and is a major reason why some city parents choose public school over private. Harming the arts program could very well kill our public schools. And speaking of kids from the county, when, at the meeting, a parent asked about possible future space constraints, Mr. Henderson reminded us of the number of kids in the system who live in the county. Was he implying that C’ville city schools would no longer admit county students if enrollments rose too much?

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