Education potpourri: Middle school, lawsuit battles, custody, and the sports obsessed

Marsha Sutton
Marsha Sutton

By Marsha Sutton

After moving sixth grade into middle school beginning this fall, the Rancho Santa Fe School District will join most other school districts nationally that group sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders together.

A 6-8 middle school configuration is now commonly accepted, over the 7-8 combination we see locally or even the 7-9 combination that I grew up with.

It makes sense on so many levels. Both students and parents can form deeper attachments to their schools when three years are spent there rather than two. Two years is more like a holding pen than an institution that fosters long-term school spirit and meaningful connections.

Curriculum is often written with sixth grade at the middle school level. For example, textbook publishers commonly divide World History into two parts – the first half in sixth grade and the second in seventh. Attending one school or school district for sixth grade and a different one for seventh can mean poor integration of material. It can also mean lack of rigor in sixth grade where history is taught by homeroom teachers rather than middle school teachers who specialize in history.

And with the new Common Core State Standards (required by 2014) that organize material in three clusters –for grades K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 – the middle school grade realignment becomes more pressing.

Even though she had reservations, Rancho Santa Fe School District superintendent Lindy Delaney said sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders need to begin working together.

“I actually resisted it because I like the idea of sixth-graders remaining young,” she said, “but not at the sake of education. So we made the change.”

Delaney said she did a study four years ago, and found no compelling reason to move sixth grade into middle school. “There’s a big difference between a sixth-grader and an eighth-grader,” she said.

But positive outcomes have resulted from the decision to create a 6-8 middle school, she said, including a cohesive body of instructors from the economy of scale and parents excited about the change.

“We’ll find ways to take care of our sixth-graders because they’re young,” she said. “Overall it’s good.”

So what to do about Del Mar and Solana Beach, which are K-6 districts? San Dieguito Union High School District serves grades 7-12 and needs to find a way to incorporate sixth grade into its embrace.

But because this is a major change in the way school districts function and because funding is affected, what’s best for kids is likely to be derailed by inertia and bureaucratic stumbling blocks.

The K-6 grade configuration is a relic from the past. But it may take an act of Congress to make what’s right happen.

Good for Rancho Santa Fe for leading the way.

Personal email accounts for public officials

The Del Mar Union School District wrapped up a lawsuit filed by Del Mar resident Michael Robertson who sued the DMUSD in 2011 for what he said were violations of the California Public Records Act.

Among other issues, he claimed that emails to and from elected school district trustees doing school district business on their home computers using private email addresses should be released as part of the public record. Sadly, he lost this argument.

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