Parents, teachers concerned about OKCPS plan to put 5th grade students in middle schools

Superintendent Sean McDaniel unveiled the OKCPS Pathway to Greatness last week. (Caroline Vandergriff/KOKH)

Oklahoma City Public Schools is still getting feedback on its plan to restructure the district and close more than a dozen schools. OKCPS unveiled the Pathway to Greatness proposal last week.

One of the biggest worries for families and teachers is changing the grade bands to include fifth graders in middle schools. In a survey by the Professional Oklahoma Educators, two-thirds of school personnel think bullying will increase with the change.

“Is there a formal plan in place to look at these numbers in the next couple years, to really evaluate if this is the very best move?” asked one parent at a community input meeting on Monday night. “Because I’ll be very honest with you, I have concerns about putting my fifth grader in full middle.”

OKCPS says the new grade bands will provide students and teachers with consistency and an opportunity to build positive culture.

“So fixing those grade bands and saying we want everybody, as much as possible, to be pre-k through fourth, fifth through eighth, nine through twelve, it allows them stability at that building for a certain block of years,” said Carrie Coppernoll Jacobs, a member of the OKCPS Board of Education. “So they have time to fit in and get to know their teachers and get to have time to be part of that culture.”

District leaders say it will mean re-imaging the current middle school structure.

“We are not tossing my baby, who is nine right now, into a setting where he has a schedule and locker and he has to figure it out for himself,” said Rebecca Kaye, OKCPS chief of staff. “That's not what we're going for at all.”

Kaye says fifth and sixth graders will be in a more departmentalized, elementary setting inside the middle school.

“It’s such a big transition for kids, and being able to have more time to go from that class rotation as fifth graders to individual schedules as eighth graders before they go to high school, giving kids extra time to get used to that change is going to help them,” said Coppernoll Jacobs.

The district encourages families to look at how this one change fits into the bigger picture. 15 to 18 schools will be shut down and attendance zones and feeder patterns will be changed so students can transition together.

“They’re going to go from one elementary school, to one middle school, to one high school,” said Coppernoll Jacobs. “And they have time at each of those buildings to build a school culture.”

OKCPS is continuing to sell this vision to the community before the board votes on the Pathway to Greatness in March.

Professional Oklahoma Educators conducted an poll Monday to gauge opinion on this issue.

The breakdown of respondents:

  • 76.47% - Teachers
  • 5.88% - Counselors
  • 3.92% - Librarian
  • 7.84% - Special Ed
  • 3.92% - Principal
  • 1.96% - Paraprofessional

Satisfied with “Pathways to Greatness” plan?

  • 4.00% - Very satisfied
  • 34.00% - Satisfied
  • 24.00% - Neutral
  • 16.00% - Dissatisfied
  • 22.00% - Very Dissatisfied

Do you think students will be negatively impacted by the "Pathways to Greatness" plans?

  • Yes – 55.10%
  • No – 44.90%

Will bullying increase by having 5th graders in middle school?

  • Yes – 66.67%
  • No – 33.33%
  • "Not necessarily. As an elementary school, we have worked very hard to create an environment where bullying is extremely limited and taken care of when it does happen. I don't hear the same about middle schools."
  • "Definitely. You have a group of kids attaining puberty, which we know brings put the worst qualities in people of any age, attending school with kids who are still children really. Puberty is a time of confusing feelings about one's self. This is a time in life that a young person is especially prone to feelings of low self-esteem. As we all know bullies frequently suffer from low self esteem. Unfortunately 5th grader would seem to be the perfect target."
  • "I think middle school faculty will have to be proactive and work very hard to curb this."

What issues do you foresee teachers facing by having 5th graders in middle school?

  • "I think the 5th graders will be overwhelmed by the 7th and 8th graders who are so much more physically and emotionally mature. I believe the misbehavior will increase as the 5th graders strive to impress their older peers."
  • "I don't think it will be as bad as they think. Other district around the country have been doing that for years and it seems to not be a great problem. To me it's no different than freshmen with seniors."
  • "I think it would be too much of an age gap and there may be more problems that could occur by upper class students picking on younger students."
  • "None, it will provide more stability and give them a chance to develop a routine."
  • "Until a few days ago, the students and parents were operating under the assumption that they would be in the elementary school setting 1-2 more years. This is a big change for them to get their heads wrapped around. Immaturity will be the major challenge. These teachers will also be new to that particular school and trying to get their bearings."
  • "Introduction to drugs and sex a year earlier."
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