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Sixth-graders moving to Cottage Grove Jr. High next year

Cottage Grove Elementary School fifth-graders will attend sixth grade at Cottage Grove Junior High School next year.

The District 833 School Board voted 5-2 to move the students with board members Jim Gelbmann and Denise Kapler voting against.

When the school opened in 2002, there were 330 students, but enrollment has increased to approximately 750 with a building capacity of 720-740 students.

Currently, a half-day kindergarten class shares the art and science room with art classes. More space is needed to have quality programs for special education and students with limited English language proficiency, said Linda Rull, assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, at the Jan. 24 school board meeting.

About 100 kindergarten students, including two all-day classes, are projected for the 2008-09 school year in addition to 20 to 40 new students in other grades, according to Rull.

Administrators considered three options for dealing with overcrowding in the school including moving kindergarten students into leased space.

They also considered capping grade enrollments. They didn't recommend doing so because the district would have to pay to transport students who move into the attendance area to other schools.

Fifth-grade parents were invited to an information meeting in December and toured the junior high school Jan. 17.

Positive parent comments included that sixth-graders would have separate lunch and passing times in addition to separate art, music and physical education classes.

Some parents, however, are concerned their children will not be safe riding buses with ninth-graders. They said their children could be bullied by older students and exposed to profanity and drugs.

Bus complaints are handled individually, according to Gary Dechaine, district transportation director. If sixth-graders need to be near the front of buses, it's better if the students take the initiative rather than having drivers enforce it.

"We have methods to take care of problems," he said.

Separate buses for sixth-graders could cost $30,000, according to Dechaine.

This won't be the first time District 833 has moved sixth-graders to a junior high school.

Currently Liberty Ridge Elementary School students attend Lake Junior High School in Woodbury.

Kapler said, at the Jan. 10 meeting it was a "bad" experience when Royal Oaks sixth-graders were moved to Lake Junior High School.

"It's for one year. Why create social and emotional turmoil for one year?" said Kapler, adding the district is not committed to offering all-day kindergarten to all parents who want it.

If sixth-graders aren't moved, there would be no all-day kindergarten classes at Cottage Grove elementary next year, Rull said.

There's no guarantee sixth-graders would not have to change schools again in 2009 when new attendance boundaries go into effect, Gelbmann said.

"There might be other solutions," Gelbmann said, adding affected parents should have been consulted before the recommendation was made to move them.

When Royal Oaks students were moved for one year, "we were new in the process," said Board Member Marsha Adou.

"It's a paternalistic attitude to say we know what's best for kids," Gelbmann said.

"It's not time for brainstorming," said Board Chair Ron Kath, who supports the move.

Having a better environment and quality space for sixth-graders fits with the district's strategic plan, Kath said.

Gelbmann asked that, during the budget process, consideration be given for separate buses for sixth-graders who are moving.

Judy Spooner
Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
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