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Reduction in Classroom Sizes May Expand Middle School Program

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The state move to reduce class sizes could have an unexpected side effect: allowing the Conejo Valley to expand a popular program in which some sixth-graders attend middle school.

Tight space and an even tighter pocketbook previously have stymied school board trustees’ wishes to broaden the so-called Middle School Program, in which Los Cerritos and Colina middle schools each accept 144 sixth-graders from throughout the district every year.

“I think this is something that we have found--that the Middle School Program is very successful,” board President Richard Newman said at a meeting Thursday night. “To extend it to more students would then be of some benefit to the educational system.”

With the advent of classes of 20 or fewer for the school district’s first-, second- and third-graders, trustees are striving to free classrooms at elementary schools. By whittling class sizes, the 18,000-student district is faced with a space crunch and would need to buy 39 portable classrooms, float a bond or embrace a year-round school schedule.

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In that light, expanding the size and scope of the 2-year-old Middle School Program becomes a break-even deal.

At the meeting, Richard W. Simpson, assistant superintendent for instructional services, outlined a handful of ways the program could be expanded at the existing locations or at all four middle and intermediate schools.

Colina, Los Cerritos, Redwood and Sequoia each could welcome 144 sixth-graders from across the district. Or, trustees could leave the two existing programs unchanged and begin a 216-student program at Sequoia and Redwood. Another option is upping the number of students to 216 at Colina and Los Cerritos.

Trustees voiced support for expanding the program to all middle schools on a limited scale.

To gauge support for the expansion, trustees Mildred Lynch and Elaine McKearn suggested surveying parents and teachers about their wishes.

A less likely possibility is that trustees could vote in two weeks to reconfigure the whole school district, converting elementary schools to end after the fifth grade and nudging all sixth-graders into the fast-paced world of middle school.

McKearn said she was not interested in district reconfiguration.

“I, in particular, like for parents to have a choice, because there are some kids who are ready for [middle school] and there are those who aren’t,” she said.

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Regardless of which option the five trustees choose, up to 27 bungalows will need to be purchased at $75,000 to $80,000 each for the four middle school campuses.


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