Around 40 parents filled the cafeteria at Tompkins Elementary on Wednesday night to hear about the possible move of sixth-graders from the sixth-grade center into the main building at Jacobsen Middle School.
They also came to express their concerns, give their opinions and ask questions after a 30-minute presentation by Jacobsen Principal Susan Ortega, which outlined the advantages of moving the sixth-grade students form their current location — a collection of portable classrooms physically removed from the main campus by a parking lot.
The benefits included improved response times for emergencies, added security, closer proximity to campus facilities and the added feeling for students to belong to something bigger than the sixth grade.
But parents said those advantages paled in comparison to the value of keeping sixth graders separated from seventh and eighth grade students, citing maturity issues, overcrowding of hallways and the potential for increased bullying.
Others argued that there were absolutely no compelling academic reasons to relocate students, as the sixth grade center has been working and is a success story of the district.
Some questioned why the district was considering the move in the first place, accusing school officials of trying to pursued parents in order to gain support for the move, which would open up the sixth grade center for the nearly 100 students who will be attending the new Abernathy Charter School in August.
An allegation that school officials said is not true.
“This has nothing to do with the charter school,” Ortega said. “It’s about the unification of our sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.”
Tehachapi Unified School District Superintendent Lisa Gilbert backed Ortega’s statement, telling parents that other options to house the charter school’s students were available, including space at Monroe High School and the Wells Education Center on South Robinson St.
Currently, there are 295 sixth graders attending Jacobsen and with the exception of a handful that participates in a combined-grade advance math class, they are kept separate from upper classmates.
According to Ortega, that segregation would remain in effect despite the younger students being in the same building. Lunches and between period schedules would remain separate.
Still, parents weren’t sold and applause and cheers erupted when sixth-grade teacher Christine Burris spoke out against the move.
“I like that we protect our younger students from more mature behaviors,” she said. “ I know that sixth graders misbehave, but I feel their actions are more out of immaturity. I don’t feel that any of the advantages presented tonight are enough to move our students.”
Burris is just one out of 12 sixth-grade teachers at Jacobsen that she said are opposed to the move, and added that some would consider looking for openings at other schools if the school board approves the move.
But teachers aren’t the only ones that would consider moving.
Timaree Torres has three students attending district schools, including one special ed student at Jacobsen.
She said if school officials approve the relocation, she would be forced to enroll her children in one of the area’s charter schools.
“Crowding is a huge issue and the community has supported keeping sixth graders separate, which I think is important,” she said. “A lot of the reasons given tonight for the move were silly, and the district needs to do more research, especially in the area of special education, before they consider any move.”
The district is holding its third unification meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7 at Cummings Valley Elementary.
School officials will take into consideration all of the comments they receive from teachers and parents, and present their findings to the district’s board of trustees, which will make a decision later this year.