Decision is near on moving 6th grade to MUMS: Superintendent says no; panel says yes

MIDDLEBURY — Will the seven towns in the Addison Central School District send their sixth-graders to the Middlebury Union Middle School, expanding MUMS from only grades 7 and 8 to a grade 6-8 school?
The ACSD Board is scheduled to decide the question at its meeting next Monday, June 19.
This comes as Superintendent Peter Burrows this week released a “Grade Reconfiguration Report” in which two teams considering ACSD’s transition to the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) recommend expanding MUMS and Burrows recommends not move sixth grade to MUMS at this time.
Burrows instead advocated creating a long-range master plan that encompasses “enrollment patterns, facilities analysis, demographic trends, financial costs, and educational opportunities to determine optimal grade configurations and infrastructural changes for ACSD students.” ?
ACSD is caught up in the complexity of consolidating governance and budgeting among the seven communities and nine schools in the district along with figuring out how to transition to the IB program, and moving sixth grade to MUMS is pushing change too far for the comfort of some constituents, he said.
“We are entering into a new conception of who we are as an educational community, and we need time and practice to build trust,” he wrote in the report. “In analyzing the capacity of our staff and community to change, I believe that a grade configuration change at this point would not be optimal.”
The recommendation was not based on the cost of making the change. In fact, the report said that moving sixth grade to MUMS would save the district $170,000 by reducing the need for roughly 2.8 full-time employees with no expected transportation or facilities cost increases or reductions.
The ACSD delivers K-12 public education to children in the towns of Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge. The ACSD board last year decided to pursue IB World School status for its schools. If successful, the ACSD would become the first public school system in Vermont to achieve IB status.
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.
Some IB program supporters believe the ACSD could make a more seamless conversion to the new system if the district’s 6th-graders were moved from their local grade schools to MUMS.
But some area parents and school officials aren’t keen on seeing their 6th-graders depart for MUMS.
The Addison Independent recently printed a letter signed by 49 people who identified themselves as “concerned residents of ACSU/ACSD.”
Those who signed the letter said they questioned the wisdom of making a major change in grade configuration when the ACSD has, during the past few years, already made some dramatic changes. Those include consolidation of school governance under Vermont’s Act 46, and pursuit of IB status.
Critics of the move to expand MUMS have also raised misgivings about how some of the smaller elementary schools in the ACSD would be able to survive with one fewer grade through which to draw students.
“Without the weight of a strong argument directing us away from our current model it is illogical to make a change, particularly another big change during a period of such transition and transformation,” the letter states. “Instead, let us learn to trust our new ACSD board and see it look hard at the bigger picture as opposed to trying a patch for just one grade. Let us be excited about IB and devote our energies to its success. Let us enjoy our newly consolidated district and the positive relationships we are working so hard to build.
“We urge the members of the ACSD school board to vote ‘no’ on moving 6th grade,” the letter concludes.
Burrows noted during a recent interview that the ACSD board asked him two years ago to begin looking into the notion of transferring 6th grade to MUMS. That study lost momentum, however, when Burrows and school directors had to turn their attention to the Act 46 requirements of school governance consolidation.
Burrows and his staff laid out a busy schedule this spring to convey the “6th-grade to MUMS” to ACSD residents. Burrows conducted a “listening” tour at each of the seven elementary schools and MUMS from April 10 through May 5. The district circulated a community survey on the topic to parents, teachers, students, and area residents. The unfurling of the Grade 6 concept concluded with three community forums last month that included analysis of the district’s grade configuration study.
All of this was to culminate in the release on Monday of the district’s report on the notion of adding 6th grade at MUMS. The report includes a summary of community feedback, analysis, and a lot of research — including estimates of the potential financial ramifications of a 6th-grade move.
There was support for the MUMS move in the report from two groups studying the best way to move to IB — the Primary Years Program team and the Middle Years Program team, or PYP and MYP. Both the PYP and MYP design teams recommended the change. The MYP team strongly recommended the move because the arguments in favor “were student-centered reasons, and the reasons for not moving the sixth graders were more systems-based concerns or adult-centered concerns,” the report said.?
The PYP Design Team’s endorsement was not universal. Of the 10 team members present at the June meeting, one remained undecided by the end of the inquiry and one strongly disagreed. Also, several team members expressed reservations around the pace of change in ACSD, in particular expressing empathy for teachers who may be feeling overwhelmed. Despite these reservations, eight were in favor of the move.
According the report, MUMS Principal Kristin Principal Holsman-Francoeur said MUMS welcomed the idea of having sixth graders, has space to add students without requiring teachers to share classrooms, and is eager to begin work with the new model.
“We were impressed by the thoughtfully-developed proposal that addressed so many of the concerns we had discussed up to that point,” the report writers stated. “A collective sentiment after the presentation was one of collegial respect. If ACSD sends its sixth graders to MUMS, we know they will be in good hands.”
The ACSD Board will meet Monday, June 19, 6:30-9 p.m., at Middlebury Union High School.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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