All sixth graders in Falls Church schools next fall will attend a junior-senior high school, the city school board decided last week.
In a move necessitated by planned renovations that will temporarily shut down the city's Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, the board, with one member absent, unanimously decided to consolidate all kindergarten through fifth grade students in the Madison and Mount Daniel elementary schools which are presently below capacity, and send the city's 92 sixth graders into "their own school" in the George Mason Junior-Senior High School building. That arrangement won over a consolidation of all elementary students in available elementary buildings with temporary classrooms and potential overcrowding.
Prior to board action, parents had expressed opposition to the plan. Most parents speaking at a school board public hearing on the shift said their children were not socially mature enough to mix comfortably with students as much as eight years their senior. Parents also said their children would lose the leadership experience sixth graders traditionally have in the elementary school.
"I am disturbed by it," said parent Marjorie Prochaska of the board's decision. "I feel strongly about it, and I was disappointed with the decision. But I feel it was probably the logical one."
Two weeks before the decision, Prochaska, who narrowly lost an appointment to the school board in September, drew applause in a public hearing when she said: "The sixth graders need to be a child a year longer and not be pushed into a pre-adult environment. The sixth grade is the oldest in a children's environment. They need to have younger children look up to them. If we send them to George Mason, we are denying them a vital stage of their social development."
"We just didn't feel our child was ready (for the shift) and I feel I know my son better than teachers do," said another parent who declined to give her name to a reporter.
Board chairman Elizabeth Blystone said she did not expect parental resentment or backlash from the board decision.
"The parents I talked to said they were opposed to it at first and after hearing from the staff, they said 'Whatever you (the school board) decide will okay.' I came to this decision quite reluctantly. As a parent, I appreciate the maturity and leadership experience and social relationships of a sixth grader in elementary school. As a board member, I thought of the cost, the program offerings and the use of space. But what tipped it for me was the staff enthusiasm. I decided that if the teachers were as enthusiastic as they are, knowing the students as they do, then I, as a parent and as a board member, was willing to go along with them," Blystone said.
Making the motion to shift the sixth grade to George Mason, board member Daniel Arons said, "I have not seen any overwhelming opposition by parents of students. It has been substantial, but not overwhelming. With the impact of crowding and cost (caused by keeping sixth graders in the elementary schools), I think the sixth grade should be housed at George Mason next year."