The Anchorage School District is considering moving all sixth grade students to middle school over the next two years.
The school board expressed support for the plan at a work session Tuesday afternoon but still needs to vote to approve the change. It’s one of several ways the district could cut costs as it faces a $68 million budget deficit next school year.
Currently, three out of 10 middle schools in the district are sixth through eighth grade. According to a plan proposed by administrators, the other seven schools would gain sixth graders over the next two years — removing the classes from the elementary schools that currently house them. The process could involve redrawing boundaries for middle schools.
The move would allow the district to use large middle school buildings more efficiently, said Kersten Johnson, the district’s senior director of secondary education.
“Our middle schools are some of our most empty schools in the district, minus a few neighborhood elementary schools,” she said.
The seven middle schools that would gain sixth-grade classes are Central, Gruening, Romig, Wendler, Hanshew, Mears and Goldenview.
Other cost savings could come from eliminating a collaborative period for teachers. Currently, middle school teachers teach for five out of seven periods each day. One non-teaching period is a planning period. The other gives teachers time to work as a group.
Teachers union president Corey Aist said losing that collaborative period could negatively impact both students and teachers. For students, it means another class added to their workload. For teachers, it means less time to work together on addressing middle schoolers’ needs.
“Now they have six classes, so they have a whole other set of tests and homework,” he said. “In addition, those classes are now shorter, so I’m spending less time every day with those students.”
Johnson said she knows the collaborative period is valuable for teachers. But she said restructuring the day could help save the district money.
“If you have teachers teaching more classes in a day, essentially you can get more kids in front of them,” she said. “It means you have an extra period that you don’t have to hire another teacher for.”
For kids, Johnson said, moving sixth grade to middle school has several benefits. Middle school students have music and PE every day. Sixth graders at middle schools can also take higher-level math classes. Johnson said this is an opportunity to make the middle school experience consistent across the district.
The school board will continue to discuss the budget through the end of the year. The board must submit a balanced budget in February.