While the decision over what to do with the fifth-graders at Tahlequah Public Schools has already been made, some parents are still worried about putting their children in the new middle school setting.

One concern expressed by parents during public forums was the interaction between fifth-graders and eighth-graders.

“We are confident the school board has considered all pressures of putting students together of different ages and maturity levels,” said David Dick, whose sons attend TPS. “As long as my kids get a good education, that’s what I’m concerned about.”

Administrators are already laying out plans to keep the fifth- and sixth-graders separated from the seventh- and eighth-graders.

“We will have the students separated throughout the building,” said Tahlequah Junior High School Principal Terry Garrett. “We’re considering bringing in a modular structure to add on to the school, which would house the fifth grade. We haven’t determined if we’re going to do that, but in any case, the students will be separated as much as possible.”

Dick said he is OK with the move, since he’s been assured the students would be separated.

Cheryl Arnall, a second-grade teacher at Greenwood Elementary, didn’t like the idea of putting younger children with older ones, either, but she hopes the influences of local families will positively impact their children’s decisions.

With the recommendation of Superintendent Paul Hurst, the Tahlequah I-35 Board of Education decided to move the fifth-graders to the middle school next year, along with the sixth-graders. Both classes are currently at Central Elementary, but the facility is in disrepair.

The ninth-grade class will move from TJHS to Tahlequah High School next year, when construction of additional classroom space is completed.

Hurst selected the middle school option after soliciting public opinion on a number of options, including keeping the fifth-graders at the Greenwood, Cherokee and Sequoyah; keeping Central as a fifth-grade-only facility; turning Central into a pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade school; create a third- through fifth-grade facility at Central; or creating a “unique delivery school” at Central, where students would be placed based on skill level.

Many of those option were eliminated due to concerns over safety at Central and the condition of the building.

Central Elementary is the district’s second-most-expensive facility in terms of maintenance and temperature control, and is in need of serious renovations.

“I love the building; I recognize its historical importance in this community,” said Hurst at a public forum. “But we have to put some money into it. We have to consider that bringing it up to today’s standards - environmental codes, electrical codes, building codes - is going to take a lot of money.”

However, the facilities at the current junior high school offered the best solution for housing the students.

“As far as the numbers on paper, we will have about the same number of students next year as we have this year,” said Garrett. “We might have about 50 more students.”

The move will also allow the teaching staff from Central Elementary to remain intact, which was important to district administrators and the staff at Central.

“We wanted to keep those family groups together,” said Garrett. “It’s a very healthy atmosphere for the kids.”

Garrett said the goal for the teaching staff from Central was to operate in the same fashion as the teachers at TJHS, where students are assigned to a group of teachers whom they stick with for their tenure at the school.

“Central operates very similar to what the junior high operates right now,” said Garrett. “The teachers have more responsibilities right now, teaching several different subjects, and that might change, but in terms of structure, it will be pretty similar.”

Kristi Weaver, whose three sons – Austin, Brent and Blake – will all be at the middle school next year, supports the plan.

“I’m fine with it,” said Weaver. “It’s a great facility, and the staff works great together. I’m really excited about it. I had some reservations in the beginning, but after talking with the staff at Central, I think as long as the teachers stay together, it will be a good thing.”

The move could also allow more opportunities for fifth-graders to take electives than they would have at Central or the other elementary schools, something Garrett is looking into.

“There are other opportunities for sports and music,” said Weaver. “That’s a positive thing, and something the majority are looking forward to.”

Weaver said that at first, it may be difficult to make the adjustment from what was already in place.

“I think it’s the unknown that people are afraid of,” said Weaver. “I’ve known Terry [Garrett] for a long time, and I know he has those kids’ best interests at heart. The hardest part about the whole thing is going to be calling it a middle school instead of the junior high school.”


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