Is Grade Configuration Important in the Middle School?
The grade configuration of our middle school should not be a primary concern. In the '90s, "Just about all researchers and practitioners agree, however, that excellent middle grades education is not a matter of changing grade spans or erecting new buildings. Rather it is the result of developing, implementing, and evaluating programs that are responsive to the characteristics and needs of early adolescence." 1 In addition, "schools need to be more concerned about good practices for the education of early adolescents and less concerned about the 'best' grade span." 2
Although trends in American education during the '60s changed the junior high school from the grade configuration of 7, 8 and 9 to that of a middle school with grades 6, 7 and 8, the best grade span for Port Washington's middle school is 7 and 8. Grades K-6 can remain in the elementary school. For the children who will be in our system for the next few years, a plan that converts Weber back to a 7 and 8 middle school, and reopens the Salem Elementary School, offers the least disruption, with the least redistricting of children. Although many reasons are given why one middle school configuration is better than another, mostly administrative efficiency and enrollment needs change school system. Our closest neighbor Manhasset has a 7 & 8 middle school.
The board of education's proposal for a middle school, grades 6-8, holding 1200-1300 pupils, raises many unsettling issues. Port Washington's middle school will be the largest middle school on the North Shore of Long Island. Children may have feelings of anonymity. The school could lose good tone because there will be so many students in one facility.
Finally, there seems to be inadequate space for outside playing fields and auditorium seating.
Since programs and not buildings or grade configurations make a good middle school, Weber's successful programs, such as team teaching, can be applied in the elementary schools, to include both the fifth and sixth grades. Many school districts already include fifth grade in their middle schools with much success, such as our nearby neighbor, Glen Cove.
Weber's location in the middle of town, with the adjacent playing fields shared by the high school is the logical location for Port Washington's middle school. The children can look up the hill and see where they are going next. This is the plan with the most value.
1 Encyclopedia of Educational Research 6th edition, volume 3 page 842.
2 Ibid. page 837.