By Ron Leir
Starting in September, the Belleville Board of Education will be incorporating sixth-graders from around the district into a middle school environment.
That means they’ll be sharing space in the Belleville Middle School which currently houses youngsters from grades 7 and 8.
The board is inviting parents of graduating fifth-graders who will be the first sixth-grade class to join the older boys and girls this fall to an orientation on Thursday, June 13, at 6 p.m., at the Middle School, 279 Washington Ave., to learn more about the plan.
In a recent posting on the BOE web site, Superintendent of Schools Helene Feldman told parents and guardians said the move was motivated by “how to best meet the needs of your children academically, emotionally, and socially.”
Additionally, Feldman posted, “the learning and achievement of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students” will be linked “in a meaningful and impactful manner.”
Rest assured, Feldman posted, “Your children will be welcomed into a nurturing and structured learning environment, where a network of highly qualified administrators, educators and support staff will work to promote and maximize your children’s success on a daily basis.”
In an interview with reporters at her office, Feldman said the key to the entire enterprise was getting teachers with certifications to teach specialized areas like social studies, English, math and science into sixth-grade class settings to foster competition.
“If our sixth-grader can get that specialized instruction, he or she will have a chance to fare better academically and to acclimate better to a high school environment later on,” said Feldman.
And, Feldman said, the district must have those specially credentialed teachers in place to qualify for full state funding.
Feldman said that many parents feel the process of moving their children into a new school with new adjustments to make and a new set of expectations “is happening too quickly.”
But, she said, it’s her recommendation – and the wish of the board – to do it now for the sake of the children involved.
To accommodate the influx of about 360 new sixth-graders into the Middle School this fall, “we have to bring at least 12 teachers” with specialized certifications, as well, Feldman said.
How much will have to be added to the budget for salaries and benefits isn’t yet calculated, she said. “One or two” of the existing sixth grade teachers may already have certifications for history and/ or English in grades 5 to 9, she said. The number of teacher retirements will also factor into the equation, she added.
Also unknown at this point is the number of special education students wjo will be part of the new sixth-grade mix, Feldman said.
All of the new incoming sixth-graders will be accommodated among 10 classrooms on the Middle School’s third floor, Feldman said. An average class size of around 32 is projected, as opposed to the current range of typically, 23 to 29 per class, in elementary schools around the district, although School 3 currently has two six-grade sections with 30 children in each, one district supervisor said.
Eighth-graders will be found on the first floor and seventh-graders will be on the second floor of the Middle School.
The new sixth-graders will have access to computer instruction in a lab class, Feldman said. “We’re working on getting everybody enough computers.”
“We’ll also be starting a new elective class in pre-law (for sixth grade),” she said.
Anthony Slaese, head of the Belleville Education Association, which bargains for teachers, was asked if he foresaw any difficulties with potential teacher transfers. “As long as it fits our contract language and state statute, we don’t have a problem with it,” was his reply.