Choose the 5-8 Middle School Configuration instead of the 5-6/7-8 Configuration
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The Fair Lawn Board of Education has had several meetings from April through June of 2017 to discuss facilities planning in response to growing enrollment across all Fair Lawn Schools.
With hardly any engagement from the public, the Board has decided to plan a referendum that would make a district-wide 5th-6th grade school at Memorial and to make a district-wide 7th- and 8th grade school at Thomas Jefferson (TJ).
Our proposal is to make both Memorial and TJ 5th-to-8th grade middle schools.
This alternative will alleviate overcrowding in the elementary schools as much as the 5-6/7-8 configuration. It also will cost the same, and likely even less when taking into account the need for fewer students to be bused for a 5-8 configuration.
Reasons in support of the 5-8 configuration over the 5-6/7-8 configuration include the following:
- Claims for the educational benefits of a 5-6/7-8 configuration for students are entirely theoretical and not empirically based. The Board has been unable to provide any research in support of better educational outcomes among students in a 5-6/7-8 configuration. We prefer NOT to subject our children, or our neighbor’s children, to such unnecessary experimentation.
- The Board proposes this major reconfiguration with no permanent superintendent in place to oversee the planning and implementation for the development of two new schools. Such a transformative change needs more stable and longer-term leadership, which our district does not have in a superintendent at this time.
- There are no 5-6 schools in Bergen County, and very few throughout the state, to learn from regarding this configuration. On the flipside, there are over 50, 5-8 schools in our state, and the neighboring district of Paramus has two middle schools with 5-8 configurations. This allows for the ready adoption of “best practices” for 5-8 middle schools in Fair Lawn.
- While it is not ideal to have 5th graders with 8th graders, there is no systematic research that shows poorer outcomes for 5th graders in schools with 8th graders. In fact, research that the Board itself has presented makes the argument that 5th graders can gain from being in a middle school environment. There are practices to keep 5th graders away from 8th graders in the building.
- The 5-6/7-8 configuration subjects children to many school transitions. Students under this configuration will be switching schools every two years (for 5th grade, then 7th grade, then 9th grade) during a period of human development already fraught with many changes. Research finds that kids, on average, drop academically when they transition to middle school. The 5-6/7-8 configuration thrusts two middle school transitions on our children, compared to one under a 5-8 configuration.
- The 5-6/7-8 configuration will require school administrators to figure out a whole host of issues, including developing new curriculum and programs for two new schools; reshuffling teachers; maintaining specialized programs at both buildings; managing a far larger pool of students eligible for busing; and better staggering school start times for families who have multiple children across grade levels in different schools. We are concerned that time spent on these issues will take away from time spent on other important matters facing the district.
- The 5-6/7-8 configuration will create more stress for many families, including having multiple drop-offs when siblings attend schools in opposite directions of each other; worrying about pedestrian safety as children walk longer distances to school; residents sitting in more traffic and driving longer distances to and from school on already congested roads; and making arrangements for the mobility of children who are no longer able to walk to their middle school (especially for households in which both parents work).
In short, the 5-8 configuration will introduce far less risk and fuss for children, parents, teachers, administrators, and for our community as a whole, while still alleviating overcrowding and maintaining excellence across all Fair Lawn schools.
Therefore, we implore the Board to move away from the 5-6/7-8 proposal and to select a 5-8 configuration in its place.
Please refer to fairlawnbettermiddleschools.org for research references and additional information.
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