Amherst Regional committee hesitates on sixth-grade move to middle school

  • Children board buses Tuesday at Wildwood School in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2021 8:30:04 PM

AMHERST — Moving town sixth graders to the Amherst Regional Middle School in the fall of 2023 appears to be a fait accompli, but members of the regional panel that oversees use of the building are not yet ready to endorse the change.

A week after the Amherst School Committee unanimously voted to have sixth-grade students at Wildwood, Crocker Farm, and Fort River schools begin taking classes at the regional building, the Amherst Regional School Committee put off a decision Tuesday on approving the move until later this month.

Some sixth graders may not be ready to leave the elementary school environment, and that worries Pelham representative Sarahbess Kenney.

“I care about the kids,” Kenney said. ” I have concern about what that transition will look like.”

Leverett representative Gene Stamell said while the move is fine for Amherst students, how Leverett, Shutesbury and Pelham students are integrated into the school needs to be discussed, as they already make up fewer than one-quarter of the student body.

“Feeding districts will be that much more in the minority,” Stamell said.

Aside from Amherst, the committees in each town will have to decide whether they might also be sending sixth graders to the middle school, though Shutesbury representative Steve Sullivan is definitive that this will not happen in his town.

“Shutesbury is not interested in even talking about it,” Sullivan said.

Superintendent Michael Morris said the move of sixth graders will benefit the regional schools both educationally, with an anticipated redesign of the curriculum, and financially, where Amherst, and any other of the four towns, would make a negotiated payment to the region for use of the building space.

“From a regional standpoint, I don’t see a downside,” Morris said.

Beyond designing a three-year middle school curriculum, the rejuvenated program would offer a maker space, what Morris calls a 21st-century woodshop with technology, and possibly be able to have more special classes from which students can choose.

Sixth graders would have their own space within the middle school building, including their own bathrooms, and would be separated but not isolated from the seventh grade and eighth grade students. The concept, Morris said, is to have sixth graders feel as if they are going to a middle school, and not kept exclusively in their own nest.

Even if the representatives from smaller towns oppose the change, Amherst makes up a majority of the regional committee, with five representatives, while Pelham has two and Shutesbury and Leverett have one apiece.

Before a vote is taken, School Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald suggested members read an in-depth advisory group report that explains what the change would do.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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