Fort Bend ISD considers eliminating K-6 initiative

By Betsy Dolan

Five years after its implementation and touted as a way to improve the academic success of students attending under-performing schools, Fort Bend ISD is considering abandoning the K-6 initiative because its results have not been what the district had hoped.

During a Board of Trustees workshop on September 10, Assistant Superintendent Rhonda McWilliams offered trustees a report card on the K-6 Initiative and called on the board to approve a return to a standardized district where elementary schools would be K-5 and middle schools would be 6-8.

“During five years of the initiative, we have seen pockets of improvement in student achievement,” McWilliams said. “However, overall there is not evidence of sustained academic growth based upon the K-6 initiative.”

The initiative, which was launched in the 2007-2008 school year, involved 13 under-performing elementary and middle schools in the district. The peak of the program’s success occurred in the 2008-09 and the 2009-10 school years when there were multiple exemplary and recognized K-6 campuses. The current K-6 alignment shows 9 of the 13 schools not making adequate progress for this year. McWilliams partially blamed the programs’ decline on the reduction in force (RIF) that occurred in 2010.

“The core of the initiative was based upon the addition of staff,” McWilliams said. “While it is difficult to isolate what has hurt those K-6 campuses the most, I think the loss of those positions has been tremendous.”

Trustees were shown a break down of enrollment numbers under the current initiative and what those numbers would look like under a standardized plan. Four elementary campuses would be at just 60% building utilization without sixth grade. Only Missouri City Middle School would see its enrollment go above its functional capacity with the addition of sixth grade. Justin Silhavy, FBISD’s Demographic and Planning Coordinator told the trustees that standardizing the district provides an opportunity to “reconfigure everything to address overcrowding at elementary and middle schools and consider possible boundary changes.”

The overview of the K-6 Initiative also included survey results of parents and teachers. Among the parents, 68% said they were satisfied with the initiative, 75% were satisfied with their child’s overall academic performance and 70% want the program to continue. But among the teachers surveyed, 60% said they were satisfied with student achievement, 68% thought students were getting a better education with the K-6 Initiative but just 33% wanted the program to continue with 26% “unsure”.

Trustees were also told about the difference in Fine Arts opportunities for sixth graders attending K-6 schools compared to sixth graders attending middle schools. McWilliams said the choices are fewer at K-6 schools, students get less instructional time, the Fine Arts teachers are spread too thin and K-6 students are less likely to continue with Fine Arts activities once they get to middle school.

“We can’t offer anything but art and band at the K-6 campus. But kids in the sixth grade in middle school can choose from choir, orchestra, speech. That’s been a negative (with the initiative) and it has affected us all the way up through our high school programs,” McWilliams said.

The cost of standardizing the district would be nominal, according to the data compiled by the district. Fort Bend ISD would need to hire one additional counselor at a cost of around $70,000 and temporary buildings would need to be moved at a cost of $35,000 each. Reassigning staff, moving furniture and supplies and transportation changes would be minimal.

The board hopes to discuss eliminating the K-6 Intiative at their next board meeting on September 23.

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