WILMINGTON — While the Wilmington schools superintendent believes grade-level centers can positively impact learning and also benefit children in other ways, she insists a decision has not been made.
Wilmington City Schools (WCS) Superintendent Mindy McCarty-Stewart said this week she wants to dispel a myth that a decision already has been made whether to set up grade-level centers in WCS’ three elementary buildings.
Currently, Denver Place, East End and Holmes Elementary Schools have student bodies determined by geographic areas, and the children at those elementary buildings currently range in grades from kindergarten through fifth grade. A grade- level center, on the other hand, will group children together by grade level and not by geography.
After Monday’s school board meeting where a couple parents raised questions about grade-level centers, McCarty-Stewart said there is no data or research that points to student achievement with a particular grade-level configuration.
But she went on to say the grade-level evaluation process going on here involves looking at “what we do know about” teacher effectiveness, student collaboration, the big transition in entering middle school, instructional practices, students connecting with students, as well as socio-economic imbalances among the elementaries and class-size imbalances among them.
Class size is considered key, especially in the early grades, and if all the district’s 3rd-graders, say, were in one building rather than three, district officials would be able to balance out the class sizes rather than have pockets of higher student-to-teacher ratios, the superintendent has said.
The next step in the decision process is “to really dive into” a transportation plan that will be needed if the change is made, said McCarty-Stewart.
Laura Struve, who teaches English at Wilmington College, expressed concerns Monday night about grade-level configuration of school buildings. A summary of research she conducted over her winter break focuses on students transitioning between buildings within a school district, and the “narrow spans” of buildings that have only a couple or three grade levels in them.
According to McCarty-Stewart, she has seen Struve’s research and it is “broad in range,” including research about 10th graders in Texas. The superintendent added that configurations and “spans” are difficult for research.
One of the main benefits of grade-level centers, in the superintendent’s view, are social benefits from having more grade-level peers. For example, the grade-level format increases a child’s opportunity to find peers with common interests, and increases his or her opportunities to connect with more students with similar learning styles, according to a handout based on McCarty-Stewart’s visits with PTOs.
In other news from the board meeting:
• Steven Haines, Wilmington Schools Foundation president, spoke about the impact Foundation grants are making on students in the district.
• The following donations were announced: $600 to Wilmington Middle School Project Trust from the Middle School Boosters Club; a French Horn to the Wilmington band program from Amy Hale; and $50 for a middle school multi-handicap classroom by an anonymous donor.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.