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Bellevue Schools Make Changes, Add Middle School & Head Start

The Bellevue School Board unveiled an ambitious plan Wednesday night at its working meeting designed to improve every level of their district. One of the more drastic changes is the blueprint to add the sixth grade to the third floor of the high school, joining the seventh and eighth grades, rendering it a middle school in every way.
 
"The scores from the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade testing are reported as middle school scores," said David Rust, Director of Academic Services at Bellevue. "We realize that we can't treat 12­-year ­olds like seniors, or like elementary students."
 
The school board had been investigating the possibility of creating a middle school-within-a-school for several years, but Superintendent Robb Smith decided they should take the exploration a little further. On Wednesday, Smith and the board decided to make the middle school happen, and institute the plan for the 2015­-2016 school year.
 
"Dr. Rust and I have backgrounds in middle schools," said Smith. "We decided to give these students an identity. They enjoy being the center of attention. It gives a face and a voice to those years with significant social and biological changes going on."
 
Smith plans to have the fifth and sixth grade students go through intentional transitional activities to let them know more of what they should expect, and he would like to see all of the prospective middle school students have a say in how their new school looks. Currently the third floor is similar to the rest of the school, with light gray walls and bright yellow lockers, but that could change in an effort to set the middle school apart. There are six main classrooms on the third floor, and there will be six teachers dedicated to teaching middle school students.
 
Members of the board recalled that the high school building at one time housed more students, so putting an additional fifty to sixty students on the third floor should not be a problem. High school principal David Eckstein will also head the new third floor effort but the middle school will be its own entity, separate from the elementary and the high school. Parent orientations will also be included to let them know what to expect.
 
"Staffing allocations come out this month, and we expect everything to be in place by May," said Smith. "I think the teachers are excited, because it will give them a certain amount of freedom and autonomy."
 
A second auspicious change instituted by the board is the finalization of a partnership with Gateway to take advantage of dual credit opportunities. Sophomores will take PLAN tests which are basically preliminary ACT tests, and if they score high enough, they will be eligible to take courses as juniors and seniors which will act as dual credit towards both their high school diploma and their college credits.
 
"Currently we have thirty students who qualify, and we think we will have about forty by the time school ends," said Rust.
 
Students will be bussed to the Covington Gateway campus in the mornings to take their courses. They can take two in the fall and two in the spring.
 
"This will give the students the feel of the college culture, get them excited about the environment they will enter when they leave high school," said Smith. "We have an eight-course sequence, and the juniors can choose from certain courses, and the seniors have a choice of certain subjects designed to complete their high school courses at the same time they can get some of the general education college courses completed so they will have a leg up when they graduate and go on to college. And the best part is that we are paying for this. Parents are going to save money on this."
 
Smith mentioned that they have a student right now who qualifies for the courses and she is so ready for the college courses that she could possibly graduate from high school and simultaneously have an Associates Degree.
 
"That is a prime example of developmental responsibility," said Smith. "We are meeting the needs of the individual student."
 
The third major change coming to the Bellevue School District targets the very youngest in the community.
 
"We are going to have a Head Start and early Head Start program," Smith stated. "This will start with our infants and toddlers, and make them more Kindergarten-ready when the time comes."
 
The district already counts high in their Kindergarten readiness, scoring 63.6-percent on the 22 question Brigance Kindergarten readiness test for the 55 students who began Kindergarten last fall, and a well above average 83-percent of children who attended Bellevue's public preschool. Board member Julie Fischer also greets every newborn Bellevue resident with a "Welcome Home, Tiger" bag which gives parents an idea of resources they can take advantage of.
 
Now they can add a Head Start program to the list of resources.
 
"This will add more staffing from Federal funds," said Smith. "This is a great addition to our pre Kindergarten program."
 
Smith also said that the district has no plans to build a new Central Office building.
 
The above comment refers to the property next to Grandview Elementary which has a building that was recommended for demolition. The board announced they have received two bids so far and members are waiting on a third bid for the destruction of the building. The Board has no plans to do anything with the property.
 
Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
 
Photo: Smith (foreground) and Rust in hallway of third floor where middle school students will learn next year/RCN