Wright City R-II contemplates moving fifth grade to middle school

By John Rohlf, Staff Writer
Posted 1/9/24

The Wright City R-II district considers moving fifth graders from West Elementary to the Missouri middle school to ease enrollment issues and growing student populations.

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Wright City R-II contemplates moving fifth grade to middle school


Projected enrollment increases over the next several years is driving a proposal for the Wright City R-II district to potentially shift elementary school reconfiguration.

Wright City R-II Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Way said one of the district’s goals is to keep their elementary schools with 500 to 600 students. Currently, East Elementary’s capacity is 480 students, including the most recent four room addition. West Elementary School’s capacity is 600 students. With an additional four room addition, the district anticipates being able to house 560 students at East Elementary. 

“When we did the four room add up at East, we predesigned that always thinking there would be another four room,” Wright City R-II Superintendent Dr. Chris Berger said. “In fact, early plans of Props (1967 and 2025), it was eight rooms. Remember because of budget constraints, we dropped that down to four. Now informed by another year or so and by RSP (Associates), we’re saying reallocate the funds that we were going to do to create the preschool expansion and demo of the high school. Reallocate those to another four room addition.”

With the district utilizing their current model of kindergarten and first grade at East Elementary and second through fifth grade at West Elementary, the district expects to be over maximum capacity at West Elementary in the 2026-2027 school year. 

Berger said when American Foods Group is fully operational, the district knows they will have an impact on their enrollment, along with other school districts in the area. 

“The construction activity, both commercial and residential, is also increasing. Historically, we have been growing but we expect that to increase significantly onver the next decade,” Berger said. 

Berger said last school year, the district ended the year with essentially pre-pandemic levels of enrollment. Berger said this is ahead of most area school districts. Many are still behind pre-pandemic enrollments, he stressed. 

So far this school year, the district is up  between 10 to 15 students from the previous school years. 

“The State has two official count dates. One in September and another in January,” Berger said. “We were up 11 students in September.” 

There are a couple options the district could utilize to delay a need to act on the spacing issue. One option is for the district to go to two kindergarten through fifth grade buildings with boundaries for the two elementary schools. With this proposal, the district would not face any capacity issues until the 2027-2028 school year. The district’s other potential option is to move fifth grade from West Elementary to the middle school. There would be no boundaries with this move and there would be no capacity challenges through the 2027-2028 school year. 

Wright City Middle School Principal Taylor Backues sees the potential move for fifth graders to the middle school as a positive for the district. 

“I’ve gotten the amazing opportunity to watch our fifth grade cohort from last year being with them at West Elementary and moving with them to the middle school,” Backues said. “And some of the problems that they were having with rotating, they aren’t having this year with rotating because they’re getting new peers in each class.” 

While his preference is for a classic seventh and eighth grade junior high, Berger said there is no empirical evidence to suggest proceeding with one middle school model over the others. 

“I think we can be successful in any configuration,” Berger said. “And of course, we know the most important thing is I think what you alluded to. Getting the right people in the right place and the right teachers in the right place. I think we can be successful.” 

Board member Mary Groeper said when the middle school was built, it was a fifth and sixth grade wing. 

Board member Beth Dean was not surprised the district received pushback on the option to run both elementary schools kindergarten through fifth grade with boundaries. 

“From a parent perspective, I’ve always loved that we had just kindergarten and first over at East Elementary,” Dean said. “I always thought it was a brilliant decision. It was something unique that our district offered. Unfortunately, I know it’s inevitable that eventually we’re going to have to pull the trigger and have the boundaries. But it doesn’t surprise me that there was pushback.” 

If the district proceeds with moving fifth grade to the middle school through board approval, the plan would be to move fifth graders to the middle school in the 2024-2025 school year. 

wright city, r ii, school, district, elementary