Bond approval will lead to reorganization of grade levels in Quincy schools

Ninth-graders wait outside Quincy Junior High School after returning from first period classes at Quincy High School. Under a reorganization plan, ninth-graders would be housed permanently at QHS. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Oct. 7, 2014 7:27 am Updated: May. 13, 2015 6:12 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

If voters approve an $89 million bond issue in the Nov. 4 election, Quincy School District officials will have the green light to carry out a long-sought realignment of the district's grades.

For years, many residents have expressed unhappiness with the existing system, in which elementary schools serve K-3, Baldwin Intermediate School serves 4-6, Quincy Junior High serves 7-9 and Quincy High School serves 10-12.

A facilities survey last May showed only 10 percent of the respondents wanted to keep the way grades are currently configured.

One often-heard complaint is that the system requires three disruptive "transitions" to new schools -- after third grade, sixth grade and ninth grade.

The survey showed 78 percent of the respondents would rather see just two transitions. Within that group, most preferred to see grades K-5 in the elementary schools, 6-8 at QJHS and 9-12 at QHS.

That is precisely the configuration that would be put into place if voters approve the bond issue.

Money generated by the sale of bonds would be used to build five new elementary schools serving grades K-5. The district would also build an addition and some extra classrooms at Quincy High School to accommodate freshmen, who would be moved over from QJHS. Sixth-graders, now housed at Baldwin, would then be shifted to QJHS, and Baldwin would become one of the sites for a new K-5 school.

Dan Sparrow, principal of Quincy Junior High School, is among those who feel it makes sense to move ninth-graders to QHS and sixth-graders to QJHS.

"The number of transitions we have in the district creates problems in the learning continuum," he said. "Studies show the less transitions you have, the greater the academic success of students."

On top of that, he said, many of the ninth-graders attending QJHS feel disconnected from QHS even though they are considered high school students.

For several years, QJHS attempted to make ninth-graders feel more aligned with QHS by developing a "freshman floor" featuring lots of reminders that ninth-graders are part of the high school even though they actually spend most of their day in a junior high.

Ninth-graders have to jump through some logistical hoops to take advantage of the high school services available to them. For example, each morning about 250 freshmen -- roughly half of all ninth-graders -- start their day at QHS taking elective courses. Then those students are bused back to the junior high for the rest of their day.

"We don't have the feasibility of providing those electives here," Sparrow said.

QHS Principal Danielle Edgar also sees benefits in moving the ninth-grade students to QHS on a permanent basis.

"Having the ninth-graders on our campus would improve communication with them about the high school experience," she said.

QHS administrators frequently visit QJHS to talk with freshman about the importance of accumulating high school credits for graduation. But it's difficult to emphasize that message with regularity when the high school's administrators are in are in one building and the freshmen are across town in another.

"That separation in terms of facilities has made it a little more complicated than it would be if we had access to them all the time," Edgar said.

Edgar and Sparrow said most ninth-graders they talk with would prefer to be on the QHS campus, though some like the current setup.

"For the most part, the information I've received from kids is that they would like to be part of our campus -- and they are, for certain things," Edgar said. "They're involved in athletics, and we've tried to include them in Homecoming. Yet there's still that physical separation."

George Crickard, chairman of the Committee for Building Quincy's Schools, which is working to promote the bond issue referendum, also feels realigning the grades would be beneficial to students.

Moving the freshmen into the high school would help them appreciate the importance of doing well in their coursework as they work toward graduation, he said.

"I think there's advantages academically, athletically and socially of bringing them all together," he said.

Crickard also sees benefits grouping grades K-5 in the elementary schools. He said many parents over the years have been apprehensive about sending their fourth-graders to Baldwin -- a massive school housing 1,500 students in three distinct sections. He would rather see less upheaval for that age group.

"We know keeping kids together with their classmates and with their friends in a comfortable environment leads to better outcomes in education," he said.

Joel Murphy, the district's business manager, said if the bond issue passes, a special committee would be appointed to begin mapping out the process for reorganizing the district's grades.

New attendance boundaries would have to be drawn to coincide with the five K-5 elementary schools to be built with the bond issue. The committee would have to establish ground rules for determining the boundary lines in a way that's fair and makes sense.

Murphy said it would be necessary to work out the new boundaries early in the process so families would know in advance which elementary schools their children will attend. Students would then continue at their current elementary school until their designated new school opens.

Under the master plan developed by the facilities steering committee, a new K-5 school on the Monroe School site would be built first and would be ready to open in the fall of 2016 -- the same time the proposed new addition at QHS would be ready.

At that point, ninth-graders would shift to QHS, and sixth-graders would shift to QJHS. Then all students in the newly redrawn attendance area surrounding Monroe School would start going to that school.

Three other K-5 schools would then be built in a staggered sequence over the next couple of years, and students assigned to those schools would move into them as soon as they open.

Baldwin School's K-5 center would be built last. Murphy said during the construction of the new Baldwin school, students in the newly redrawn Baldwin attendance area would probably attend school temporarily at either Adams and Madison school -- both of which are slated to be closed or repurposed once the reorganization plan is carried out.