Anchorage middle schools prepare to include sixth grade starting this fall

A woman in a blue shirt and black cardigan gestures to floor plans on a table.
Romig Middle School’s Principal Carrie Sumner shows floor plans of where classes will be relocated. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Romig Middle School principal Carrie Sumner pointed to a pair of floor plans in her office in Anchorage last week showing where classrooms will be in the fall when hundreds of sixth-graders join the school.

“We’re utilizing, as you can see, all classroom space, all space — period,” Sumner said.

Across the Anchorage School District, thousands of sixth-graders and dozens of teachers will move from elementary schools to middle schools in the fall. District leaders say the change could help consolidate elementary schools as the district deals with budget uncertainty and a shrinking number of students. Some, including Sumner, also say sixth-graders will benefit socially and academically by spending an extra year in middle school.

“Two years is a quick stopover,” Sumner said. “The opportunity to have them for three years and really get to know them well, support them well, I think it’s going to be a huge benefit.”

Principals and district administrators have been preparing for the influx of 2,000 sixth-graders into middle schools for two years. The idea was first brought up prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s still a lot of work to do.

Sumner said staff are reorganizing nearly the entire school. Just eight teachers will keep their same classrooms next fall, 42 others will move elsewhere in the building or to one of four new portable, relocatable classrooms. Adding about 400 more sixth-graders next year will make Romig the largest middle school in the district. It already enrolls about 700 seventh- and eighth-graders.

Sumner said she’s excited about the change.

the outside of Romig Middle School
Romig Middle School. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

It’s among three major changes the district is making to the way it delivers education next school year. School start times will also shift for all grade levels and high school freshmen will start workforce-centered courses as part of the district’s rollout of career academies.

Sumner said the new start times seem to have generated the most conversation.

“It is a lot of change. We will do it. But it is a lot of change,” Sumner said. “I hear more about start time concerns than I do about sixth grade moving to middle school.”

Sumner said she has to hire 22 teachers to work with the sixth-graders who will attend Romig. She has interviewed more than 100 candidates and still has a half-dozen positions to fill.

Senior Director of Middle School Education Joe Zawodny said moving sixth-graders out of elementary schools and into middle schools could save the district some money in the long-term, but the change is more about academic impacts than budget cuts.

“The real purpose for moving sixth-graders to middle school is to provide equity across the district,” Zawodny said. “We already have three schools where sixth-graders get to enjoy certain electives and extracurricular opportunities that sixth-graders at other schools don’t, right? And so really, it was bringing the whole district in line with opportunities for students more than it was a way to save money.”

Sixth-graders already attend Begich, Clark and Mirror Lake middle schools. The other seven middle schools, Romig included, just have seventh- and eighth-graders right now. The middle school change does not apply to the district’s alternative and optional schools.

Students walking through a hallway.
Students at Romig Middle School head to class after hearing the bell. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

This year, weekly meetings of middle school principals in the district have focused on preparing for the upcoming change. Zawodny said the two biggest concerns are space and staffing.

“In some situations, like Romig, we know that at least for the next few years, we’re going to have more students than the school can provide space for,” Zawodny said. “So we’re actually adding four relocatables to that school.”

Zawodny said that about 80 new teaching positions will be added to the seven middle schools, most of the positions shifting from elementary schools. The district will relocate nine portable classrooms to four middle schools to make enough room. At Romig, eighth-graders will primarily use the relocatable classrooms to allow sixth- and seventh-grade classrooms to be grouped together in the same parts of the school.

“We went out, we toured every school several times to make sure not only do they have the space they need for the projected enrollment, but that they have the technology they need,” Zawodny said.

Sumner graduated from the Anchorage School District, and has spent two decades working as an educator in Alaska. She said even with two years of preparation, she still worries issues may arise next fall that the district has not considered.

“We’re trying to think of everything, but we’re human beings,” Sumner said. “It’s a huge lift to move an entire — you know you think of it being a class like my sixth-grade class is moving — but it’s hundreds and thousands of kids. So it’s quite a logistical matrix.”

But Sumner is confident that middle schools will be able to quickly fix any issues that pop up and provide a smooth transition for sixth-graders in the fall.

Tim Rockey is the producer of Alaska News Nightly and covers education for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at or 907-550-8487. Read more about Tim here

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