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Big Island will keep 6th grade

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By Tom Wilmoth

    Next year’s sixth grade class at Big Island Elementary will be small, and likely combined with some fifth graders to fill out the class.
    Out of the 18 rising sixth graders, six of those have chosen to transfer to Bedford Middle School, leaving only 12 slated to remain at Big Island. But at last Thursday’s Bedford County School Board meeting a proposal to move all of the students to BMS failed.
    Actually the proposal was to make Big Island a K-5 school, a move that will eventually take place when a new middle school is built. The goal is to have that school open in August 2016, which would allow all of the Liberty Zone sixth graders to attend middle school.
    Currently only the sixth graders from Bedford Elementary School attend BMS. But some parents have chosen to have their sixth graders transfer to the middle school. They actually have until July 1 to request a school transfer.
    Vice Chairwoman Julie Bennington, stating that she believes even more Big Island students might transfer before the deadline, made the proposal to move all the sixth graders to BMS. But only Bennington and Board Chairman Gary Hostutler supported the motion; board members Mickey VanDerwerker, Kevin Willis, Kelly Harmony, Dr. John Hicks and Richard Downey voted against it. Jason Johnson was not at Thursday’s meeting.
    “I’m not a huge fan of combo classes,” Bennington said of combining the fifth and sixth graders at the school.
    She also said it’s not fair that some sixth graders in the Liberty Zone get to attend the middle school while others don’t. All of the sixth graders in the Forest and Staunton River zones attend their respective middle schools. But sixth graders at Thaxton, Montvale and Big Island currently go to school at their elementary school, unless they go to BMS through a school transfer.
    Harmony said if a move is made, all of the sixth graders should be at the middle school. She added that it wouldn’t be fair, at this point, to force the remaining 12 sixth graders at Big Island to attend the middle school.
    Dr. Hicks, a former principal at Stewartsville Elementary, said combo-classes aren’t necessarily bad. “It’s all a matter of how the teacher does it,” he said.
    The school board is currently exploring its options as to where to build a new middle school. That school has to be built as part of the agreement between the city of Bedford and Bedford County in facilitating the city’s reversion to town status, which takes place July 1.
    The current middle school facility does not have enough room to house all of the sixth graders in the Liberty Zone.
    In other action Thursday:
    • The board heard from members of the county’s Student Advisory Council, about their priorities. The students, who have met with Bennington and VanDerwerker several times this year spoke to the board about a number of key areas including curriculum, facility concerns, technology and teachers. Jill Ferguson said the curriculum should fit the student so “all can have an equal opportunity to learn.” She said more hands-on activities should be utilized. She also said there needs to be more guidance for seniors on college and career planning. Facility concerns included the gym at Liberty High School as well as several concerns with Bedford Middle School.