Parents at Upper Marlboro school fight to keep sixth-grade class -- Gazette.Net







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Barack Obama Elementary may no longer have a sixth-grade class starting next school year — an effort school officials help will ease crowding — but parents are worried about the timing of the change.

“It is only a few months to get my 10-year-old ready for 13- to 14-year-old students,” said Deveda Spencer of Upper Marlboro.

Spencer said her daughter, Laila, has looked forward to being a sixth-grade leader at Obama Elementary in Upper Marlboro, but now she doesn’t know if she will move to a new school. Laila said her main concern about changing schools was “being the youngest” and possibly being “bullied.”

Prince George’s County school officials informed Obama Elementary parents in December that sixth-graders may be moved to James Madison or Kettering middle schools in the 2014-2015 school year, pending school board approval.

The sixth-grade move has been proposed to help with the school’s overcrowding and to establish sixth-graders at both middle schools, which gives them new academic opportunities, said A. Duane Arbogast, public schools chief academic officer.

Obama Elementary is currently has an enrollment of 896 students while the school has a state-rated capacity of 834 students, according to school data.

Madison has 59 available seats and Kettering has plenty of open seats with 474 available, according to school data. Obama Elementary currently has 122 fifth-grade students, who would be distributed between Madison and Kettering for their sixth-grade year, according to the proposal.

The best configuration for middle schools is having sixth to eighth grade, so the school system attempts to establish a sixth-grade level at middle schools when possible, Arbogast said.

Arbogast said he understood that parents had concerns, and they will have an opportunity to speak at public hearings before a decision is made by the school board.

“We have looked at the research ... the least desirable configuration is middle schools with seventh to eighth grade,” Arbogast said. “Boundary changes always create angst whether it is moving a sixth grade or changing a boundary for a neighborhood.”

Upper Marlboro resident Shauné Hayes, mother of an Obama first-grader, said if officials want to fix crowding, they should examine school boundaries. Obama Elementary pulls students who live near Perrywood Elementary in Largo; they probably should be attending that school, she said.

“I feel like before they up and decide to move the sixth-graders to James Madison they should look at the boundaries,” Hayes said. “You have students living near another elementary school but coming to Barack Obama.”

The school is expected to make its decision Feb. 14 on the proposed move.

Obama PTA President Sandra Collier said she plans to advocate that the school board not remove the sixth-grade class. Instead, she said the board should examine the school boundaries. “When the school was built, five different elementary schools had their students pulled to Barack Obama,” Collier said. “Those schools are underenrolled, so realigning the boundaries makes the most sense.”