A radical change to the way in which Cannon County educates its children could be implemented in the near future.
If it happens, whether that change is a benefit, a drawback — or makes no real difference to the learning of students — would likely take years to assess.
Over the last few months school officials have begun discussions on the possibility of replacing the current grade structure, which has students attending kindergarten through 8th grade elementary schools and a 9th through 12th grade high school.
The new structure officials are considering would add a middle school to the mix, likely for grades 6 through 8.
No changes will be made, however, without extensive community input and feedback, and officials will begin the process of presenting the options to the public during the next school year, 2010-2011.
Among the options begin considered are:
• Turning Woodbury Grammar School into a middle school.
• Turning the current high school into a middle school and building a new high school.
• Building a new school which would be for grades 6 through 8.
• Building a new elementary school in Woodbury and turn WGS into a middle school.
• Build an annex to WGS and made it a middle school.
• Turn either Auburn, East Side, Short Mountain, West Side or Woodland into a middle school.
• Build a middle school and also a consolidated elementary school.
• Make no changes to the current structure.
Director of Schools Barbara Parker said if changes are coming, the system needs to "look at the most economical option there is" and added that the ultimate decision will be made by the school board and county commission.
The presentations to the public will be made at all the elementary schools and at the courthouse. East Side principal Karen King will be in charge of designing a power point presentation to show at the meetings, and school officials and school board members will be on hand to provide information and answer questions.
Parker said she would like to have one spokesperson at the meetings and the rest of the middle school committee will serve as a panel.
Following the series of meetings, a survey will be sent out to parents of students and to the public in general to obtain their thoughts and opinions on what should be done, if anything.
The presentations will cover the definition of a middle school plus give reasons why Cannon County needs a middle school and why Cannon County does not need a middle school. They will also advise people on the pros and cons of a middle school.
At a recent School Board Retreat (workshop) two current elementary school principals gave their thoughts on a middle school:
Kim Parsley, principal of Woodland Elementary, said:
"I see the pros and I see the cons. With 6, 7 and 8th grade staying in elementary schools, you keep them sheltered to a certain extent. They're allowed to stay young for a longer amount of time. At the same time with our county being the size it is we have a hard time providing some of the things the other counties can provide at that level to get them ready to go to high school. And I see that from a high school perspective, and it's (elementary school) not really preparing them, I mean it is preparing them for high school but there can be a greater variety of things to try at that middle school level than we can at six elementary schools.
"I think you have a lot of different ways top look at it. We're small enough that you could keep it under control and not deal with some of the issues, although I know DeKalb Co, has a middle and I haven't talked with anyone there about if they like that setup. I know Rutherford Co. was kind of ... they were going away from middle schools but they've built a couple new ones. I have surveyed some of my teachers ... i haven't heard back from all of them but the ones I have heard back from all said unanimously that we needed a middle school, which i thought was interesting."
Karen King, principal of East Side, said:
"I've surveyed my teachers as well. All the ones I heard back from were the same. They felt like we were heading that direction with the new diploma project coming through, some of the things the state is mandating for us to have these kids ready for high school. Not that we aren't doing it at the elementary level but it would just be a little more efficient in a middle school setting especially in the areas of math and science.
"Some of my teachers did have some questions of what they would look like, i said maybe that will be answered tonight, what your ideas were. I've come full circle. I was very vocally opposed to a middle school because the mom in me wants my child to stay young like a child as long as they possibly can be but I also know that i want them to be as prepared as they can for the work world so from an educator's standpoint I see the need for a middle school. And from a mom's because i want my kids to be ready.
"But really once I became an administrator that's what changed my mind once i started being responsible for these kids who are getting ready for high school i feel like my teachers do an excellent job of getting them ready but i also see how hard they have to work because they're not just teaching math and science where if we had them in those departmentalized things we might be more efficient with that.