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Whither the Middle School


Bob JensenBy ROBERT JENSEN
The Desert Independent

May 21, 2017

BLYTHE, Calif It has been several years now since the School Board in a 3-1-0 vote took Supt. Mike Davitt's advice and decided to close down the Middle School in quest of better test scores and budget cuts.

Since then, the 7th and 8th grades have been transplanted to the three elementary schools in a K-8 configuration that gave the district, which was in year five of state-imposed program improvement, a total reboot.

The Middle School was created out of the old 7-8 Junior High in 1989 in reaction to the completion of Chuckawalla State Prison. Under the aegis of Dr. Leamon Hanson, the school board purchased two dozen portable classrooms to handle the influx of new students brought in by families of both prison guards and/or inmates.

However, the influx never happened. Correctional Officers far preferred to stay where they were in the Inland Empire and commute to work. Families of prisoners could not relocate within a certain area of the prison. Two dozen portables stood in the desert sun, gathering dust.

So what to do with them and how to justify their cost? In one fell swoop, Dr. Hanson proclaimed the Junior High would become a Middle School and relocated all the ill-advised portables to that location. At semester break, all was ready and the sixth graders at each site were told to grab their textbooks and get on the buses for their new home at the "new" Middle School.

With that, the population zoomed overnight from 600 students to well over a thousand, with limited bathroom, PE and lunchroom facilities. For some time, it was a madhouse.

In later years, the population was dampened by giving the parents the option of keeping their sixth graders at the elementary schools in one retained classroom or sending them on to the Middle School. This helped a bit.

Then the recession hit and Dr. Alan Jensen was in charge. He felt it to be a "moral obligation" on his part to shutter BMS and go to a K-8 configuration. He was shot down by employees, parents and the collective board. Unknown to the Board at the time, he had also spent district moneys in trying to pass legislation allowing PVUSD to run as a four-day school week, saying that it had the approval of all stakeholders. However, all stakeholders had no idea what he was doing and the bill was soon pulled from consideration.

To appease Dr. Jensen, the Board did approve a move to return the remnant sixth graders to the elementary schools and life at the old Junior High returned to normal; however, only with two dozen empty portables at the north end of the campus.

In view of dropping test scores and budget cuts, again, two years ago the majority of the Board and Dr. Davitt moved to close BMS, using a staggered move, the 7th grade one year and the 8th grade the next.

So it has been two years now since BMS became a ghost town, fenced in and shuttered. Has there been any improvement?

One cannot tell by test scores as the state went from to a different test that was computer-driven rather than bubble-in answer sheets. One cannot tell from the numbers of suspensions as the state declared that PV has a state of "disproportionality" in the numbers of suspensions meted out to black students as compared to percentiles in other populations and the effort has been on to reduce all suspensions.

However, in an article in the PV Times, Curriculum Director Lois Shaffer noted that the median GPA of the affected students had dropped from 2.7 down to 2.4. Not good.

So what does this bode for good ol' BMS? It may take years, but eventually this experiment will have to be declared a mistake and the Middle School may well have to be reopened in a different mode of delivery. The site was reconstructed less than ten years ago and the equipment, air conditioners, etc. are still very much like new and need to be utilized before the site becomes a "boneyard" for spare parts.

A fourth elementary school? One idea that may well be up for consideration is to relieve the overcrowding at the elementary schools, and re-open BMS as a K-8 elementary. Being able to use the pool for PE again would certainly be a draw. 

Another consideration is to go back to l986 and cluster the grades at each site. Have one elementary host the K‑2 grades, another all the 3-4 grades, the third grades 5 and 6 and, finally, send the 7th and 8th grades back to BMS in an elementary school configuration. This would allow for horizontal stratification at each site, each teacher in lockstep with all other at that grade lever to ensure all areas of the curriculum are addressed.

Of course, the middle school would have to be completely renamed.

Arneson Elementary has quite a nice ring to it.



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