Proposal: Move 7th, 8th grades out of high school

By Dick Mason, The Observer April 19, 2013 12:04 pm

by Dick Mason/The Observer

Heraclitus of Ephesus, the ancient Greek philosopher, once said, “The only constant thing in life is change.’’

Change likely will be a constant in the Union School District in the near future.  

Interim Union School District Superintendent Mike Wood is recommending an array of changes, ones the school board is encouraging him to explore.

One of Wood’s proposals calls for the adding of grades seven and eight to Union Elementary School from Union High School. Wood said the majority of academic research indicates that students who attend seventh and eighth grade in a grade school fare better in terms of development than students who attend seventh and eighth grade at a high school or middle school.

“A lot of research indicates they develop more socially, emotionally and academically,’’ Wood said.

He explained that seventh- and eighth-graders are going through a turbulent adolescent phase, one in which they need a nurturing elementary school setting to best further their emotional and academic development. 

Wood also said research indicates seventh- and eighth-graders focus more on academics if they are at a grade school rather than a middle school or high school. 

“They have a longer period of sustained academic growth (in a kindergarten through eighth grade elementary school),’’ Wood said.

The reason may be that they have less anxiety than they do at a high school or middle school. 

Wood’s plan calls for seventh- and eighth-graders to be taught in the Hutchinson building of Union Elementary. Seventh-graders would be taught there starting in 2013-14, and eighth-graders would be moved there in 2014-15.

A second change at the grade school level Wood is proposing involves its lunch and recess schedule. Wood is recommending that elementary school students have their midday recess before lunch instead of after it, as they do now. Wood  said grade schoolers would eat more at lunch because they would not be hurrying to get to the playground. 

“It (reversing lunch and recess) would improve their nutrition, and there would be less food wasted,’’ Wood said.

He also said this would give students time to relax before returning to class, putting them in a better frame of mind to learn. 

“The transition would be much calmer,’’ said Wood.

High school changes  

 On the high school front, Wood is proposing that UHS keep but refine its agricultural sciences teacher position after it becomes open in June following a retirement. Wood is suggesting that the retiree’s successor be a blend of an agricultural science and technology teacher. Wood said this would be an ideal blend because agricultural and technology are so closely linked. 

“There are a lot of opportunities to apply technology within the agricultural field of study, ‘’ Wood said.

Retaining the agricultural sciences teaching position is important, Wood said, because agriculture is such an ingrained part of the Union community. 

Wood also is making a recommendation regarding the filling of an opening that will be created by the retirement of a UHS science teacher in June. The interim superintendent is suggesting that the position be filled by someone who is a blend
of a science and math teacher.

Wood wants to add math to the position because he thinks the district needs to place more emphasis on mathematics.

On the budget front, Wood is proposing that the school district reduce its contingency fund from 5 percent of its total budget to 3.5 percent. This would provide more money for the school district’s general fund while allowing it to still maintain a contingency fund within state-recommended guidelines.

Wood, who served as superintendent of the Union School District for 13 years until retiring in mid-2011, will serve as interim superintendent through the end of June. He was named interim superintendent April 10 by the school board. 

Wood is stepping in for Jon St. Germaine, who succeeded Wood as superintendent. St. Germaine announced on March 19 that he will step down as superintendent on June 30 for medical reasons. St. Germaine has been on medical leave since mid-February and will remain on it through June 30.

Wood is recommending to the school board that Union High School Principal Carter Wells be appointed superintendent after he leaves. Wood said he is recommending Wells because of his ability to work with people, his commitment to the community and his energy. 

Wood is proposing that, should Wells be appointed superintendent, that a mentor he could regularly consult be provided for him initially. The mentor would, preferably, be a former school superintendent.

Wells, completing his fifth year as UHS principal, came to Union from Clara Brownell Middle School in Umatilla, where he was dean of students. Wells has expressed an interest in becoming a school district superintendent.