ACSD considers moving 6th-grade to MUMS

MIDDLEBURY — The Addison Central School District board is expected to vote this June on whether to expand Middlebury Union Middle School to include grades 6-8 beginning in the fall of 2018. It’s a move some district officials believe would allow teachers to more effectively deliver International Baccalaureate Program instruction.
Currently, sixth-graders in the ACSD are taught in elementary schools in the district-member communities of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. MUMS serves children in grades 7 and 8.
Now, only a year after consolidating its governance and becoming the first public school system in Vermont to pursue International Baccalaureate World School status for its schools, the ACSD is again looking to depart from convention. ACSD would become the first district in Addison County to run K-5 elementary schools and a grades 6-8 middle school.
“I’m excited,” ACSD Superintendent Peter Burrows said on Thursday of the potential transition, which he outlined in a March 31 email to the ACSD community.
“ACSD is researching a 6th-8th grade middle school program at MUMS, beginning academic year 2018-2019,” his email states. “We are investigating if a 6th-8th grade middle school program best meets the needs of our students within the International Baccalaureate (IB) Middle Years Program. Our IB Design Teams and ACSD leadership are conducting research and analysis, and need your input as we move towards a decision.”
Officials acknowledge the concept of a grades 6-8 middle school is bound to elicit debate among ACSD teachers, parents and students. With that in mind, Burrows has mapped out a series of events to unfurl the transition plans for grade 6 and receive feedback from the ACSD community (see accompanying story).
“I think any time you’re looking at grade configuration, there’s a lot you need to consider,” Burrows said. “One is adolescent development — what kind of environment it is for the student. And that’s what initially started this process, a feeling that people wanted to look at research, ‘Are 6th-graders more suited to a middle school environment?’”
It was last October that the ACSD board unanimously approved what will be a three-year effort to adopt the IB program within all nine of the district’s schools. That vote put the district on a path to receive its formal IB status during 2019-2020 academic year. In the meantime, local educators will undergo training in IB teaching principles as the district gradually transitions to full implementation.
The mission of the IB program is “to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect,” according to program literature.
IB works collaboratively with participating schools internationally, known as “IB World Schools.” IB’s various programs — including the Primary Years Program for students aged 3-12, the Middle Years Program for ages 11-16, and the Diploma Program for ages 16-19 — are “student-centered, emphasizing not only the intellectual, but also the physical and personal development of every child,” according to a recently completed study on how IB could be implemented in the ACSU.
If the Middle Years Program is to reach its target demographic of grades 6 through 10, it makes more sense for those students to be more closely grouped, officials said.
Supporters believe IB instruction will foster a more inquiry-based curriculum, as well as hands-on opportunities for students to do more learning outside of the classroom, with such potential partners as Middlebury College, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, local nonprofits and businesses. Program boosters also believe IB will better prepare students for future jobs and for living in a more global society.
“In the 21st century, students really need to be prepared for a workplace that is entirely different,” Burrows said. “It’s no longer about rote memorization; it’s really about learning how to be innovative and adaptable and collaborative and a strong citizen in an increasingly global world.”
District officials can’t be sure right now about how the 6th-grade transition would affect individual school populations in the fall of 2018, when the move would take effect. Numerous children could move in or out of the district by then. But here is an enrollment snapshot based on the most current (December 2016) ACSD numbers.
The number of sixth-graders in ACSD elementary schools is currently:
•  Bridport Central School: 8 out of a total of 72 students.
•  Cornwall’s Bingham Memorial: 7 of 81.
•  Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary: 72 out of 446.
•  Ripton Elementary: 3 out of 47.
•  Salisbury Community: 13 out of 101.
•  Shoreham Elementary: 12 out of 80.
•  Weybridge Elementary: 8 out of 50.
So if the transition had been in effect this year, the combined total ACSD 6th-grade class of 123 would have been added to MUMS’ current population of 253, for a total of 376.
Burrows noted the MUMS building served a combined total of around 450 students when it was constructed two decades ago. But he also knows some of the district’s elementary schools are struggling with declining enrollment.
“Part of the consideration will be the (potential) impact on our elementary schools,” Burrows said. “It’s a decision for MUMS, but also a decision for our elementary schools, too.”
Ruth Hardy of Middlebury is chairwoman of the Mary Hogan Elementary School board and a member of the ACSD board. She said she looks forward to the upcoming dialogue on the question of shifting 6th grade to MUMS.
“There have been informal conversations regarding the best grade configuration for our middle school over the past few years,” Hardy said. “However, now that we’ve successfully unified ACSD and approved implementing an International Baccalaureate program, we’re more actively assessing options for a middle school model that will best serve students in an educationally and developmentally appropriate setting. The ACSD board will also have to consider potential budget and facilities implications of any changes. The superintendent will be leading a comprehensive community outreach process over the next several months to gather feedback and ideas. As a board member, I look forward to hearing from the public, and reviewing data and options as we consider what’s best for students across the district.”
Burrows hopes a lot of people weigh in on the proposed middle school change and International Baccalaureate.
“Our process over the next three months is going to be a lot of community outreach, to survey where our community is, to engage in those conversations, to look at the pros and cons, and to look through the filter of IB, because that’s what we’re building, here,” Burrows said. “It’s a central part of this inquiry.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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