Sixth-graders will be middle school student in the Bethel School District beginning next September.
In a 3-0 vote at its Oct. 9 meeting, the School Board approved changing the current middle school configuration of grades seven and eight to incude sixth grade, effective at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
The change. which officials believe will help prevent elementary schools from becoming overcrowded in the next four years, affects the district’s six middle schools – Bethel, Frontier, Cedarcrest, Cougar Mountain, Liberty and Spanaway– and 15 elementary schools.
The decision last week by board members John Manning, Mike Audas and Stan Chapin confirms action that was taken in May 2011. The board voted then to switch the district’s junior highs to a middle school format, starting with the current school year. Ninth-graders are now attending high schools, while seventh and eighth-graders are in the middle schools.
If sixth-graders weren’t moved to the middle schools, the elementary schools would probably have exceeded their respective capacities by 2016, according to district officials.
Bethel’s total enrollment in all grades is about 18,000.
A committee of community members and district officials studied the change for about two years before putting it into effect in two phases. Much of the focus was on the theory that ninth-graders, who were already taking high school-level courses while attending junior high, could benefit academically by becoming part of a high school setting.
Bethel is one of the last school districts in Washington to have middle schools. Nearly all of the 295 districts have some sort of grade configuration in which ninth-graders attend high school.