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Some question realigning classes in Marion County community

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By Chelsi Baker 
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT -- The Marion County Board of Education held a special meeting at Fairview Middle School Monday to discuss the possibility of moving fourth-graders from Fairview Elementary to the middle school, and also moving the preschool class from Fairview Middle School to the elementary school. The move would create a more fluid transition from pre-K to elementary school and from fourth grade to the middle school, said Superintendent Gary Price.

“We’re trying to take a step back and see if we can realign this in a way that makes better sense educationally for the students,” he said.

More than 25 parents and teachers gathered in the gym to give feedback and work towards a solution.

“Some of them expressed concerns, but they expressed them very well and asked good questions and made good points,” Price said.

Steve Rodriguez, principal at Fairview Middle School, told the crowd the fourth-graders will have lockers and follow the same rules as the other grades. One of the fourth-grade teachers from Fairview Elementary would focus on two subjects — reading and science, for example — and the other would focus on the other two subjects — perhaps math and social studies.

Students would switch between the two. This makes it easier on the teachers to create lesson plans because they would have only two subjects to master and teach instead of four, Rodriguez explained. Parents posed questions regarding what grades will have lunch and recess with their fourth-graders because they were concerned with what their children might be exposed to if they are allowed to interact with the older students.

“Fourth-graders don’t need to be around sex, drugs, alcohol,” said parent Tom Macintosh. “That’s all common statements that seventh-, eight- and sixth-graders are going to be around. Let them be kids.”

Fourth-grade teacher at Fairview Elementary Vicki Mendenhall, who would teach fourth grade at the middle school if the realignment takes place, was also concerned the middle school environment might be stressful or inappropriate for the younger students.

“Are they ready to come to middle school? Part of me says no,” she said.

However, Fairview Elementary’s other fourth-grade teacher, Wendy Dillon, expressed confidence in the middle school’s ability to handle the fourth grade.

“The school is very well run. The children will love being here. They will be well-cared for. They will be well-supervised,” she said. “They will have no more inappropriate contact here than they would on the bus ... My children have learned more devastating things on the bus than they had exposure to here in this building.”

Rodriguez also expressed confidence in the school and assured parents their children would have very little contact with the older students. They will be around one another only during schoolwide activities or assemblies, Rodriguez said.

“Fourth grade would be on the third floor, and seventh- and eight-graders are on the second and first,” he said. “Rarely do even my fifth- and sixth-graders see the seventh- and eighth-graders. So, the fear of the age difference — they aren’t going to see each other. It’s not a concern at all.”

He told parents the fourth-graders will have lunch and recess with the fifth- and sixth-graders, and they will have an art room, music room and gym at the middle school, unlike at the elementary school. The board also assured parents they would install playground equipment for students to use during recess.

Bringing another grade into the middle school means Rodriguez is responsible for another grade’s worth of state testing scores, but he feels confident that won’t be an issue, he said.

“These fourth-graders that are going to be here are my babies. They were here at preschool, so it would be kind of neat to see the little ones, the first preschool class we had here, are now our fourth-graders that will be in here with me,” he said.

“It’s exciting to see those kids again, and hopefully we can bring them back into the Indian way. I think we do great things here. I think my staff does great things here, along with the two teachers at the elementary school. I think it’ll work. I really do.”

The realignment will also make room for more pre-K students by moving the class to the elementary school, Rodriguez argued.

“I know for a fact there are eight pre-K kids this year that weren’t able to go to preschool here in Fairview because we were booked,” he said.

Teachers at Fairview Elementary School expressed disapproval of having their planning periods first thing in the morning, and they were upset that students would go to special classes in the morning before they were settled in for the day. There was also discussion about a lack of staff and resources at the elementary school, all of which Price said were not related to the realignment.

“That’s something that we’ll have our curriculum and instruction administrative assistant, Mr. Farley, go out and help the staff there to see if he can help them solve some of those issues,” he said.

As for moving the preschool students to the elementary school, very few parents had questions of concerns.

“There didn’t seem to be nearly as much concern about the preschool going with the elementary, and I think it probably makes a lot of sense to people,” said Price. “You would have the preschool, the kindergarten, the first grade, all those primary-type grades who could do some things together and work together on some different projects, so I think it would be a good fit. That will be up to the board to actually make that vote when I bring a recommendation to them at a later date.”

Price said he wants to ensure everyone’s questions have been answered before he brings a suggestion to the board.