Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson announced Thursday that the school district is creating a task force to explore moving sixth graders out of elementary schools and into a middle school setting, a decision he said will have a major impact on how school attendance boundaries are realigned for the 2017-2018 school year.
The move comes in part as a response to feedback Hinson has heard from patrons since he took the job in 2013. Shawnee Mission is the only district in Johnson County to have sixth graders attend elementary schools.
“We received a lot of inquiry about why do we have seven-eight [for middle school], is there a better model, why are we the only seven-eight in Johnson County,” he said at a media roundtable on Thursday.
The district will likely announce the members of the task force — which Hinson said will include teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders — in January. There is no set timeframe for the task force to complete its work, but its recommendations, if and when they come, will carry significant weight, Hinson said.
“If they make a recommendation to change middle school configuration, then moving sixth grade…to the middle school has a dramatic impact on building capacity throughout the school district,” he said.
Specifically, moving approximately 2,000 sixth grade students from elementary schools to middle schools would alleviate capacity pressure in a number of elementary buildings, thus allowing the district to keep current attendance boundaries mostly intact. The district would, however, have to open more middle schools to accommodate the large student population at that level.
Two district facilities are likely candidates for re-opening as schools if the sixth grade realignment comes to fruition. Broadmoor, a former junior high school which is currently serving as the temporary home to Briarwood Elementary, will be vacated at the end of the next school year. Indian Creek, which also used to be a junior high, will be vacated as well when the administrative functions it currently houses are relocated to the new Center for Academic Achievement.
“Both of those buildings could be utilized for elementaries or for middle schools,” Hinson said.
Regardless of the recommendations made by the middle school configuration task force, the district will almost certainly see some major attendance changes for the 2017-2018 school year. While the elementary feeder patterns for the 2016-2017 are likely to remain consistent save for a few tweaks, Hinson said, either significant elementary school boundary changes or middle school realignment are in store for the following year.
The district will be making enrollment projections for the coming years in January and February, and those projections will inform which feeder areas need to be reworked in the mid-term to allow each elementary building to accommodate the right number of students. How significant those boundary changes will be depends largely on the recommendation of the new task force.
“If a recommendation comes forth to take sixth graders to the middle school, it greatly decreases the need for elementary attendance area boundary changes,” Hinson said.