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Tuesday, Feb 12 2013 10:28 PM

District and board say no to sixth grade move

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Tehachapi Unified School District Superintendent Lisa Gilbert announces to the board of trustees at its meeting on Tuesday that Jacobsen Middle School sixth grade students are staying put. Photo by Matthew Martz/Tehachapi News

From left to right. Tehachapi Unified School District Board of Trustees' President Mary Graham, Vice President Tim Traynham and district Superintendent Lisa Gilbert discuss the move of sixth graders at Jacobsen Middle School. Photo by Matthew Martz/Tehachapi News

It didn’t take long for the Tehachapi Unified School District to make a decision about moving its sixth-graders from the detached sixth-grade center into the main building at Jacobsen Middle School.

Just three days after school officials held meetings at the district’s three elementary schools to listen to parents and teachers express their concerns, give their opinions and ask questions concerning the relocation, District Superintendent Lisa Gilbert announced to the board of trustees at its meeting on Tuesday that sixth grade students are staying put.

“As a result of reviewing all of the feedback and weighing out the pros and cons, we are leaning towards not pursuing the move of sixth grade from their current classrooms at this time,” Gilbert said. “But we also want give the board an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.”

And while the majority of the board members agreed with the district’s decision, some questioned the fiscal impact of the move.

Board President Mary Graham expressed a concern about the money that could be saved in maintaining and operating the school’s 18 aging portable classrooms, which currently house Jacobsen’s sixth grade students. A savings that according to Chief Administrator of Business Services Nick Heinlein, could add up to thousands of dollars per year in maintenance and operating costs.

Still, despite the economic gain, along with the benefits of 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. The board was not convinced the move would leave a positive impression on the community.

“I understand the benefits of the cost savings, but I think at the same time we have a confidence deficit in our district,” said trustee Carrie Austin, “Part of what makes Jacobsen a great school is the sixth grade center, and we need to show that we want absolutely the best for our students. If the difference is between cost or confidence; for me its confidence.”

The decision came as a welcome relief for the handful of parents that were in attendance, quelling concerns about maturity issues between sixth, seventh and eight grade students, the overcrowding of hallways and the potential for increased bullying.

“I feel very good about the whole process,” said Jacobsen Principal Susan Ortega. “The input that we received made it very clear that parents and teachers didn’t want to move. I am happy because they will be happy.”

Gilbert, who said an official announcement would be made to parents within the next few days, added that she was also pleased with the process, but expressed her concern over a general distrust of the district by parents.

“Many had thought we had already made up our minds,” she said. “Maybe this entire process will prove that we do listen to our parent’s, and value their input.”

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