ACS weighs pros, cons for 6th grade wing

Published 12:03 am Friday, February 10, 2012

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of stories examining the issues board of education members face in regards to a proposed Andalusia Middle School project.


The Andalusia City School system is not without options in its plan to close Andalusia Middle School and place students on existing campuses.

Sup-erintendent Ted Watson said estimates from Joe Donofro, an architect hired by Andalusia City Schools, puts a $1.08 million price on either a sixth grade academy or Pre-K building at Andalusia Elementary School.

Watson said the actual costs would have to be determined after meetings with teachers and administrators.

In July 2011, the board approved a five-year capital plan that will close the current Andalusia Middle School campus and place seventh and eighth graders at the high school and sixth graders on the elementary school campus.

Plans are to build a separate wing for the upper-level middle schoolers at the high school and build a separate wing at the elementary school, as well as move the central office to the current middle school.

The plan to close the middle school was met by opposition of former Woodson High School graduates.

The board is currently studying its options for what would be the best decision in terms of improving facilities for middle school students.

“I know a lot of people have asked why we didn’t do a study before,” Watson said. “But people should understand that a five-year plan has to be turned into the state each year. What is really is, is a list of construction projects the school board feels would be beneficial to the system. If you look at last year’s, renovations to Andalusia Middle School was on there.”

“For us to have done a study first, would have been out of line,” he said. “We know we need to do something for the middle school. And a five-year plan just outlines construction of what we would like to do. At the time, we were not sure about getting the bond issue. We did know there were several things out there. We are fortunate that we did get the bond issue when we did, literally 15 days after it went through, Jefferson County filed bankruptcy, which has pained the bond market in Alabama.

“With that said, something needs to be done for the sake of our kids, whether it is renovate the existing facilities or build new ones,” he said. “Our kids deserve it and so do our teachers. I’m ready to move on something.”


A sixth grade academy

Watson said the pros to having a separate sixth grade academy are “abundant.”

“This will help in trying to transition into the high school or junior high mentality,” he said. “The students would operate on a bell schedule.”

“We would still have one teacher per subject, as we do at the middle school now,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to make the transition smooth. The campus will be very familiar to the sixth graders as they will have been there for the past five years, but they would have their own space.”

Additionally, Watson said having a sixth grade academy would offer “protection” that many in the community are concerned about.

“They will be in their own facility,” he said. “This isn’t to say they would be exiled to their own island, per say, but their would be minimal interaction.”

“We do want teachers to be able to prepare them for the higher level, without outside influence,” he said. “We want our transitions to be smooth and as painless as possible.”

Watson said teachers currently do a good job with the transitions.

“I know this would be asking for a lot of cheese to be moved,” he said. “But when you have change, nothing is painless.”

“The idea of consolidation is not a new idea, and it’s been executed here before,” he said. “We will need the community’s support if we go through with this.”

Watson said ideally, the new wing would be placed behind the elementary school gym where the current storage area is now.

Watson said he didn’t feel there were any cons to having a new wing for sixth graders, “unless you just don’t want to move away from the middle school.”


Or a Pre-K facility

The initial proposal was to have a pre-K or kindergarten wing, which also has its own pros, Watson said.

“It would be a specific place for them,” he said. “There is some talk that they would be better off having their own facility.”

There are several cons, he said.

“If we moved the kindergarteners to a new facility, it would be a further walk for them to the cafeteria, to the library, and other places

on campus,” he said. “Additionally, if we move the kindergarten, it will cause a topsy-turvy effect on the whole campus.”

The reason for the “topsy-turvy effect” is because currently kindergarten and first grade share a hall; second and third grade share a hall; and fourth and fifth grade share a hall.

Watson said if kindergarteners moved to another facility, the second graders would have to join the first graders; fourth grade would join the third graders and fifth and sixth grade would be placed on the same hall.


Features in the new wings

Watson said that either way, the new facilities would have “ultra modern conveniences.”

“That’s not to say we are living in the Stone Age at the middle school,” he said. “We would want to make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned. We’d want to have the classrooms wired for additional technology, even if we can’t afford it right away.”

Watson said band will continue to be a staple in the sixth grade curriculum, for those who wish to participate.

“We’ll have to work out the scheduling,” he said. “We will probably have a multipurpose room for those students.”