In a bid to make better use of its facilities, the Jackson County School System is considering a plan that would convert Kings Bridge Middle School into a 6th Grade academy designed to appeal to 6th Grade students from all over Jackson County.
Although that idea is still in the planning stage, the Jackson County Board of Education will host two meetings next month to discuss the idea with system patrons. The first meeting will be held at KBMS at 7 p.m. on Feb. 7 following the BOE’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. The second public meeting will be at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 at East Jackson Comprehensive High School, again following a regular BOE meeting at 6 p.m.
Before those public meetings, the system will have some internal meeting with principals and other school officials to give more shape to what has been mostly vague concepts about such a plan.
School leaders are looking at a proposed 6th Grade school because of an imbalance in classrooms in the county. There are too many empty classrooms on the East side of the school district and overflowing classrooms on the West side of the county. Most of the system’s growth has been in the West Jackson Area in recent years.
The idea of a 6th Grade school would be to lure around 100 6th Graders away from West Jackson Middle School to the Kings Bridge facility, giving relief to overcrowding at WJMS. System leaders also say that by focusing on the 6th Grade, the system could improve some of its academic scores, which tend to “fall off” at that grade level. The 7th and 8th Grade students at the current KBMS would be combined with East Jackson Middle School under the plan.
Superintendent John Green told the BOE last week that if the system can find a way to better use its classroom space, the system could more quickly qualify for $12 million in state building funds it has accrued. That money would be used to help pay for a new high school in West Jackson. The system recently purchased land in the West Jackson area for the school.
The first idea floated by system leaders in a bid to fill empty classrooms was to make EJCHS grades 7-12. But school officials nixed that idea when informal discussions about it generated a backlash from parents.
The 6th Grade concept took shape after that, but it remains to be seen if the system could create a school that would lure away enough 6th Graders from WJMS to make it work. System leaders said they want to make the idea work on a voluntary basis and avoid having to do redistricting of school attendance zones.
But the KBMS facility is 15 miles from WJMS and has no easy road access. Whether enough students and parents from the West Jackson Area would support that idea in a voluntary system remains to be seen.
FEAR OF FUNDING CUTS
One reason system leaders are pursuing the idea now is a fear that because of state funding cuts to local school systems in recent years, that $12 million the system has accrued for growth might be taken away. Officials hope that within the next three or four years, the system will attract enough new students to fill up all its existing classroom space and thus trigger the release of those funds. But that growth has been lopsided in the West Jackson Area, thus pushing the need to find a way to shift students into empty classrooms on the East side.