Fifth-graders in Tahlequah Public Schools will join the new Tahlequah Middle School next school year under a plan approved by the Tahlequah I-35 Board of Education.

“I would recommend for your approval that the service model for grade five students beginning in the 2006-2007 school be their inclusion in a grade 5-8 middle school configuration,” said Superintendent Paul Hurst. “I do realize each of the options we have considered over the past several months has barriers to overcome, but I consider this option to be the most viable.”

Following several public forums seeking input from parents and community members, board members approved the plan at their regular monthly meeting Monday night in the Conference Room at the TPS Administration Building.

Board President John Coons thanked everyone for the input.

“The community has done real well, I believe, in coming to the meetings to give their input,” said Coons.

Hurst said the positive considerations of putting the fifth-graders in the middle school led him to make the recommendation. Those issues include lessening the number of transitions students have to make without a negative impact on current elementary school populations; the facility’s ability to accommodate the additional number of students; increased elective availability for students; and the nominal change in the total number of students served at the site.

“I have great faith in [Terry] Garrett, his experiences, and his belief system as it relates to service for these students,” said Hurst. “And likewise, there is an equal faith in the current staff working at that site to lend their expertise and their middle school practices in service with this population.”

Hurst acknowledged the move wouldn’t satisfy everyone, but said it was the best solution for the district.

Three concerns brought up by parents during the forums will be addressed by the school administration, including people accepting the change in the school structure, addressing the difference in ages of the students, and changing the perception of the junior high to that of a middle school.

“For the past two years Mr. Garrett has thoughtfully led the effort to implement a middle school interdisciplinary team model in which smaller learning communities function and provide increased opportunities for a more child-centered model than a classic junior high setting might provide,” said Hurst. “The melding of the staff from Central with the evolving interdisciplinary teams will likewise be productive in providing a climate appropriate for all students.”

Local attorney Todd Hembree, who has three children in the school district, supported the move during public comment period prior to the board making its decision.

The also approve two changes to Tahlequah High School graduation requirements.

Senate Bill 982, passed by the Legislature last year, requires schools to automatically enroll students in college prep curriculum, said Lisa Presley, curriculum director.

“Parents may opt them out of that college-bound curriculum,” said Presley.

Before students were required to opt into the college-bound curriculum, but legislators reversed that last year. The change will start with the freshman class of 2006-2007.

The board also dropped a requirement that students had to take a computer class to graduate.

“We had good intentions,” said Hurst. “But we don’t have the people, we don’t have the time, and we don’t have the hardware to make it happen.”

Hurst also updated the board on the progress of several construction projects in the district.

The tennis court renovation is progressing, following problems that occurred last year. Drywall is going up in the THS classroom addition; flooring is going down at the Cherokee and Greenwood Elementary libraries; the TJHS physical education locker rooms are being installed; a pad has been prepared for the concession stand at the softball/baseball complex; and the district is awaiting contract documents to start work on the vocational agriculture/JROTC building.

What’s next

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Tahlequah I-35 Board of Education is Thursday, Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. in the Conference Room at the TPS Administration Building.

Get involved

TPS Child Nutrition will begin a series of nutrition education meetings for parents at Greenwood Elementary, starting Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m. Child Nutrition Director Rhonnie Kerns said the monthly programs were being put together to educate parents on the importance of nutrition and the success of their children.

Other action

Hurst reported the school district received a positive midterm adjustment in state aid of about $42,000. “The was welcome news,” he said. “Any increase in state funding is welcome.”

In other business, the board approved:

• May 26 as the THS graduation date for 2006.

• Contracts with Joyce Matheney and Amanda Bruce to provide instruction for the Art Grant to Tahlequah Alternative High School; American Classic for TJHS choir festival registration, Six Flags tickets, and hotel accommodations; and Travel Tours Inc. for TJHS choir trip to Arlington, Texas.

• Fundraisers for THS football/track, THS JROTC, and THS junior class.

• Renewal of the board policy on Impact Aid Indian Policies and Procedures.

• All out-of-state and overnight trips.