Parents to Be Surveyed on Moving Sixth-Grade Classes to Middle School

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The plain white survey that Simi Valley's 1,365 fifth-graders will carry home Monday looks innocuous enough.

But parents' responses to the questionnaire could hold the key to whether sixth-graders attend elementary or middle school this fall.

The questionnaire--due back Wednesday--is a prelude to a public hearing Jan. 17, during which trustees will consider how to make room for smaller third-grade classes.

Among the options that trustees will consider is a proposal to move some sixth-graders into middle school on a voluntary basis next year, which would create more space at the elementary campuses.

"To me, parental input is important," said trustee Janice DiFatta. "I'm willing and ready to listen to parents at the public forum" and through the survey.

The survey asks whether parents would be willing to enroll sixth-graders in a single middle school pilot program if one were implemented.

This is an important question, DiFatta said, noting that parents might agree to enroll sixth-graders in a nearby middle school but could be unwilling to drive to a pilot program across town.

Parents who fear that moving sixth-graders to middle school would force them to grown up too quickly were heartened by the Simi Valley Unified School District's call for public comment.

"I definitely think that it's good that they poll the people," said Cheryl Burton, one of a handful of parents who have collected hundreds of signatures opposing the move. "My concern is that people even know that the survey is going to be sent out. . . . Since it's coming home with the students, we're urging parents to pull it out of the backpack and return it."

Prodded by a state incentive program, Simi Valley trustees have voted to shrink first-, second- and third-grade classes to 20 or fewer students. Making room for the smaller classes--an estimated 16 to 20 additional classrooms are needed for next year--is the task at hand. Trustees are expected to vote on the issue at their Jan. 21 regular meeting.

With about 50 classrooms open at middle schools, moving sixth-graders there at a cost of $25,000 is the cheapest option, according to estimates from Dave Kanthak, the school district's business director.

Other options include buying 16 portable classrooms for an estimated $980,000, reopening Arroyo Elementary for about $1.2 million and shifting to a year-round calendar for an estimated $100,000.

As envisioned by the district, sixth-graders choosing to leave elementary school would have a gentle transition into the faster-paced world of middle school, said Kathryn Scroggin, interim assistant superintendent for instructional services.

Rather than switching classes every period, they would have one or two teachers for core classes including English, math, science and social studies. The students would also have greater access to electives, including music and language classes.

Trustees must move quickly on the space issue, Kanthak said, because options will soon dry up. With demand for portable classrooms soaring, the school district must place an order by February to have delivery by September.

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NEXT STEP

All district fifth-graders will bring home a survey Monday about the plan to move sixth-graders to middle school. The survey is due back to elementary schools Wednesday.

* Trustees will hold a public hearing Jan. 17 beginning at 1:30 p.m. in the Floyd Binns conference room, district headquarters, 875 E. Cochran St., in Simi Valley. * Trustees are expected to vote on the issue Jan. 21 in council chambers at Simi Valley City Hall.

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