5th-grade students could be moving

Posted: April 26, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — City school officials began discussions Thursday on how the division would accommodate an expected increase in student enrollment and what it could mean for local fifth-graders.

According to a preliminary report from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, total public school enrollment in the city is projected to rise from its current level of 4,209 to 4,715 by 2022.

At a Building and Grounds Committee meeting Thursday, School Board members began talks about whether to move the 312 fifth-grade students at Daniel Morgan Middle School back to the division’s four elementary schools.

Fifth-graders were moved to Daniel Morgan in 2006 due to overcrowding at the elementary schools. The middle school, which also includes students in sixth through eighth grades, has 1,207 students overall and a capacity of 1,280.

According to a flow chart drawn up by division officials, moving fifth-graders back to the elementary schools could necessitate building a fifth elementary school and renovating the existing John Kerr.

If the division chooses not to build a fifth elementary school, then a new 650-capacity John Kerr could be built and Frederick Douglass Elementary School could be expanded to accommodate about 250 more students.

“I think it’s inevitable,” board member Richard Bell said of moving fifth-graders back to the elementary schools. “An overcapacity middle school is a bad idea. It’s a challenging age and a challenging age bracket to manage.”

Board member Mary Margaret Wise said that the parents she talked to were not opposed to the idea of moving the students.

Board Chairman John Bishop, however, said he wanted more options on the table, including the possibility of creating an upper and lower middle school or an upper and lower elementary school.

“I think this is something we think we have to do,” he said of moving the fifth-graders back to the elementary schools. “We need to have all alternatives in front of us.”

Kevin McKew, the division’s executive director, responded that the meeting was simply a way to lay out the possibilities.

Erica Truban and other board members said that to make a decision on the move, they needed to learn more about the instructional impact that it will have on students.

The board will soon need to choose whether it will go forward with a traditional design-bid-build or a public-private partnership (PPEA) with a private developer regarding construction of a new John Kerr Elementary School.

The PPEA allows for parts of the design phase to happen at the same time as construction and for a potentially sooner build. It also allows the private developer to buy the land as part of its construction package instead of the board doing a separate land acquisition.

The board has only received one PPEA submission — by Shockey P3 LLC — which it will review at its May meeting.

— Contact Rebecca Layne at rlayne@winchesterstar.com