The Wright City, MO, R-III district board of education approved sending fifth graders to the middle school starting with the 2024-2025 school year.
With projected growth and capacity challenges at the elementary level, the Wright City R-II Board of Education approved moving fifth grade to the middle school.
The board unanimously approved a motion to approve reorganization of their middle school to include fifth through eighth grades. The move will be effective in the 2024-2025 school year.
Based on current projections, the district expects to be over capacity at West Elementary in the 2026-2027 school year. To avoid these capacity challenges, the district’s options were to move fifth grade to the middle school or move to two kindergarten through fifth grade elementaries with boundaries. The district currently operates kindergarten and first grade at East Elementary and second through fifth grades at West Elementary.
Even with the boundaries, the district would face capacity challenges at West Elementary in the 2027-2028 school year. The district would not face capacity challenges at their schools with moving fifth grade to the middle school through the 2027-2028 school year.
“Moving fifth grade up to the middle school pushes us out beyond 2028,” Wright City R-II Superintendent Dr. Chris Berger said. “And you look at those maximum capacities and kind of get an idea of like, you know, at middle school, even after we do that, we still have capacity to 700 even past 2028, which are approaching 600. So it's it does solve that problem.”
Wright City R-II Assistant Superintendent Doug Smith said for the current school year, all classrooms are being utilized at West Elementary, with some teachers doubling up in rooms. He said if they needed to add teachers due to growth, they would need to use rolling carts for teachers in subjects such as art. He said while the solution is workable, it is not ideal.
With the move to middle school, fifth graders would have seven subjects each day. They would have four core classes and physical education daily.
They would also have two classes they would select as electives. The students would have one elective if chosen for intervention. Smith added in the future the district would look to hire content area specialists with specific certifications in the future.
Smith stressed even with the move to the middle school and elimination of recess, the fifth grade students would actually get more time for exercise each week. Fifth grade students currently get one 20 minute recess daily and a 50 minute Physical Education class once each six days. Under the middle school model, they would have 50 to 55 minutes of Physical Education daily. Overall, they would have at least 50 minutes more of Physical Education per week.
“Mrs (Taylor) Backues and I have already talked a little bit about what that P.E. curriculum might look like and how we could provide a little less structure for that and let some of that be more recess type play at times,” Smith said. “But they would be getting well over 200 minutes per week of physical activity. And I know that that was a concern with the fifth grade move. What was that gonna look like for recess? We believe that this is a really good option to address that concern.”
Several board members raised concern about fifth graders riding the bus with the rest of the middle school, since the bus would be a middle and high school bus.
“One big thing for me was the buses,” Board Member Beth Dean said. “That's a big deal, right? Because our middle schoolers run the buses with high schoolers. And so now you're going to have fifth grade on the bus with the high school.”
Board Member Kyle Lewis suggested the district institute assigned seating on the buses with fifth graders at the front of the bus and high school seniors at the back of the bus. He thinks this move would “ease some minds.”
Berger said with approval from the board, the district would proceed with assigned seating on the buses next school year.
Smith said he shares those concerns with putting fifth graders on the middle and high school buses. He stressed moving fifth graders to the middle school was a move made out of necessity.
“This isn’t something that we want to do,” Smith said. “This isn’t something that we’re out desiring to do. It’s something that is borne out of necessity right now. And what we can do is to hopefully make the best of it possible. I think it would be incumbent upon us to work with our transportation department.”
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Way said adding monitors to all buses would not be an option for the district due to not being able to find personnel to staff all the positions.
Board Secretary Dave Mikus was one of several board members to serve as members of the committee that looked into the capacity challenges. He said keeping the two elementary schools grade specific was a priority for the group.
He stressed he is in favor of moving fifth grade to middle school.
“Some of these questions are getting to be where it sounds like we're trying to separate prisoners,” Mikus said. “And they're not. They're kids. And yes, there's going to be some older kids. I don't think there's gonna be a huge problem with intermingling the two. Will there be more? Probably because they're gonna be together. But I don't think our eighth graders are going to try to eat our fifth graders. I don't see that happening. I think they're good kids and they're going to help the fifth graders. They’re going to get them taken care of and I think they're gonna blend just fine.”
Smith noted after school care would not be available for fifth graders with the move to middle school. He cited its limited use over the past few years.
“Over the past several years, we have had zero fifth graders ever take advantage of that,” Smith said. “This year, we have two. And the kids can't walk to West Elementary for after school care and they get out an hour early because school is still in session at West. So there wouldn't be care available.”
Lewis suggested their district look into providing an after school care service for fifth graders. He noted it is possible they will see an uptick in its use by fifth graders with the school day being moved up by an hour.