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6th-Graders May Be Allowed in Middle School : Education: Conejo Valley district weighs giving parents the option. State recommends such a move for students of that age.


Thousand Oaks school officials tonight will consider allowing sixth-graders to attend school with seventh- and eighth-grade students at one of the district's four intermediate schools beginning in the fall.

Giving parents the option to send their sixth-grade students to middle school, rather than keeping them with younger children at the elementary level, not only expands parental choice but follows state recommendations for students of that age, officials said.

If the school board decides to go ahead with a pilot project, Colina Intermediate School would house the middle school because it has room for additional students, officials said. The project would cost no extra money, officials said.

If it is successful after two years, the middle school at Colina would become mandatory to relieve crowding at Conejo and Westlake Hills elementary schools, which would become kindergarten through fifth-grade schools in the 1996-97 school year.

However, parents from those two schools who did not want their sixth-graders attending a middle school could choose to transfer them to an elementary school, officials said.

The sixth-grade classrooms would be in a cluster, with a separate locker area. The students would alternate among three teachers a day rather than six as the seventh- and eighth-graders do, Colina Principal Michael Waters said.

Studies show that providing sixth-graders a transition between elementary and intermediate school helps them adjust better than if they abruptly go from having one to several teachers a day, officials said.

In addition, the sixth-graders developmentally resemble the older intermediate school students more than elementary schoolchildren, Conejo Valley Unified School District Supt. Jerry Gross said.

At least 112 students are needed to make the project possible, and no more than 150 can be accepted, Gross said. If the board approves the idea, parents would have until May 1 to apply.

"We've had some very positive responses from parents, and some aren't interested in it at all," he said.

Based on word-of-mouth, officials expect the idea to prove popular, Waters said.

"We think we'll have to go into a lottery format (to randomly select students), because we'll have more interest than we can accommodate," he said.

Thousand Oaks parent Susan Malone, who served on a committee that reviewed the middle school proposal, said the idea of making the option voluntary is crucial.

"My fifth-grader thinks it might be a real exciting opportunity, but maybe there are sixth-graders that would be more comfortable in a smaller elementary school environment," she said.

The district had studied the idea of converting all elementary schools to kindergarten through fifth grade and making the four intermediate schools into middle schools. But portable classrooms would be needed to handle the overflow, making the change too costly, Gross said.

A state reform document issued in 1987, titled "Caught in the Middle," recommends that sixth-graders be housed with older students. More activities are available at the middle schools, and principals have more opportunity to get to know students and their families, Waters said.

"We can develop a much stronger relationship with students at a three-year school," Waters added. "There's just a real strong feeling among the principals that we need to be doing this."

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