Lodi Unified School District officials are seriously considering a transition to a K-8 structure districtwide.
In his final act as Lodi Unified board president, trustee George Neely appointed a small committee consisting of himself and trustees Bonnie Cassel and Ruth Davis to decide whether to pursue merging middle and elementary schools into K-8 models.
Catherine Pennington, assistant superintendent of elementary education, said her team has been asked to explore the idea of moving to the model that serves kindergartners through eighth-graders on one campus. She is interested in the change because she feels spending more time with each student leads to a better relationship with his or her family.
“The challenge is that in two years, there is so little time to establish a relationship with families,” Pennington said of a traditional middle school model.
One challenge to making the change is the need to remodel a classroom at each site to serve the advanced science curriculum. More single-subject certificated teachers would also be needed to teach the higher math and science courses.
The potential costs of these changes is not yet known.
“I’m not going to say ‘This is the perfect plan,’ because there are benefits to each one,” Pennington said.
Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer confirmed the district is looking into the idea. She emphasized that this was not a full scale change, but more of an exploration of the possibility.
The board is currently investigating ways to ensure students master the fundamentals of each grade level before moving up.
Board president George Neely, who considers himself an “amateur advocate” of K-8, thinks it might work well to concentrate that process in a K-8 school. That way, teachers and administrators can better control the transition from elementary to secondary education.
“We should look at ourselves as K-12 schools, with a smooth progression from one school to the next,” Neely said.
Some good candidates for a change to K-8 might include Podesta Ranch and Lockeford elementary schools, according to Neely.
Clairmont Elementary School hopes to be added to that list. It currently serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
Principal Susan Hitchcock said some parents preferred the continuous structure of the K-8 environment. They feel their children are not yet ready for a more mature environment.
One Clairmont parent is so passionate about continuing her child’s elementary school experience through the middle school years that she took action. Jackie Huerta is the president of the school site council, and the mother of two students at the school. She heard that other schools were considering the model, and she wanted in on it.
“It worries me that my little girl might be going to a school I might not like,” she said.
Huerta doesn’t think her 11-year-old sixth-grader is ready for the middle school experience. Two years could make the difference in her maturity and readiness, she said.
So Huerta collected 130 signatures from Clairmont parents who are in favor of stretching their school into a K-8. At least seven classrooms are currently vacant on that site, according to Huerta.
At a recent board meeting, Huerta and a contingent of parents asked trustees to consider keeping their students at Clairmont for seventh and eighth grades instead of being bused to Morada Middle or Christa McAuliffe.
So far, the board hasn’t responded to the petition.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.