CONNELLSVILLE — School directors in attendance for a presentation by Connellsville Area School District officials expressed support for a plan to move sixth-grade classes to the junior high school next year.
School board President Jay Fox III and directors Paul Harshman and Dan Martucci all said they favored the plan following a public meeting held Saturday morning at Connellsville Area High School.
The plan will make Connellsville Area Junior High School grades 6-8 beginning in the 2016-17 school year. The board is expected to vote on the proposed realignment Wednesday at its regular monthly meeting.
Fox said he is in favor of the move, which will provide a “positive outlook for district.”
“This will benefit students,” said Fox. “It’ll be great asset to the district. Moving forward with meetings to get input (from the community) is something we’ve never had.”
Harshman said he is “100 percent for it,” noting that the idea was first kicked around several years ago when the district began considering the closure of Zachariah Connell Elementary School.
“It will be a good opportunity for our students, especially with fab lab and new technology coming in,” said Harshman.
“I have all the faith in our administration to put this plan in place,” said Martucci, adding that the move will be a positive one from which sixth-grade students can benefit.
Superintendent Phil Martell said during the presentation that the district is “in the most critical three-year period” of its history.
“We have to transform the district in what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Our children deserve the same things that other children in other districts are receiving.”
Martell said the move will enable students to participate in innovative programs, be taught by subject-area teachers, have more opportunities to take a variety of elective courses and have greater access to extracurricular activities.
Planned additions to curriculum at the junior high school include engineering and STEM-oriented classes through Project Lead the Way, and the incorporation of a fabrication laboratory, or fab lab.
This type of instruction will better prepare some students to attend the Connellsville Area Career and Technical Center, Martell said.
Martell said he will recommend to the board that Charles Michael, principal at Bullskin Township and Connellsville Township elementary schools, be named principal at the junior high following the departure of Andrea Michaux at the end of the school year.
Michael said the sixth grade teaching staff will consist of three teaching teams of five teachers. Each teacher will specialize in one of five “core” subjects: social studies, math, science, literature and writing. The 330 incoming sixth-graders will be divided between the three teams. Classroom sizes will be in the low 20s.
Sixth grade classrooms will be housed at one end of the second floor hallway, where students will utilize 383 available lockers. Lockers for seventh and eighth grade students will be located on the first floor.
Michael said the students will be divided into heterogeneous groups by academic performance, based on grades, PSSA data and teacher recommendations.
Sixth grade students will have nine periods a day, including the five core subjects, lunch, two electives on a 35-day rotation and club, intramural, band or chorus courses.
All sixth grade students will eat lunch during a designated period. An additional serving line will be used to improve efficiency. The cafeteria can hold 350 students, Michael said.
At the end of the school day, sixth grade students will dismiss two or three minutes before other students.
Martell said administration has created a transition plan and the district will continue to make adjustments as needed to ensure a smooth transition, adding that he feels very comfortable with the plan and the time frame in which it needs to be executed.
“If the board approves this on Wednesday night, we’re going to move forward aggressively with elementary visits,” he said.
Administration will present the plan for a final time at the school board work session at 8 p.m. Monday in the high school auditorium.