Metro Nashville Public Schools again weighing moving fifth-graders back to elementary school

Meghan Mangrum

Nashville Tennessean

Metro Nashville Public Schools is again considering reshuffling which students attend elementary school. The district is considering extending elementary schools to serve students in grades K-5, instead of sending fifth-graders to middle school like it has for decades.

The recommendation from the Metro Schools ReimaginED steering committee – the district’s plan for improving academics across the district – came up during the most recent Board of Education meeting.

Across the state and the country, it is most common for pre-K through fifth grades to be housed under the same roof, though some schools also include K-8 or even all grades. 

PREVIOUSLY:Nashville schools scraps talks to bring fifth grade to elementary schools over $300M price tag

The plan calls for phasing in the change for the district, starting with the Maplewood, Pearl-Cohn and Whites Creek clusters for the 2021-22 school year.

Fifth-graders at a dozen elementary schools would remain at their school rather than transitioning to middle school. The schools that would be affected include: Alex Green Elementary, Chadwell Elementary, Churchwell Elementary, Cockrill Elementary, Cumberland Elementary, Hattie Cotton Elementary, Ida B. Wells Elementary, Joelton Elementary, Jones Paideia Elementary Magnet, Park Avenue Enhanced Option

Elementary, Shwab Elementary and Tom Joy Elementary.

Students arrive for the first day of in-person school in MNPS at Alex Green Elementary in Nashville, Tenn. Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020.

Eventually, Director Adrienne Battle said during a Nov. 24 school board meeting, the district would like to make this change across all elementary schools.

“We have considered a phase-in across the district starting with these three clusters (because) it doesn’t require any capital improvement changes to make it happen next school year,” Battle said. “The goal is over several years to phase fifth grade back to all our elementary schools.”

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District officials, including Elisa Norris, executive officer of strategy and performance management and formerly an outside consultant for the district, argue that academic data show that fifth-grade students who remain in the elementary setting outperform their peers in middle school settings.

Many parents also have called for the change over the years.

At the Nov. 24 board meeting, board members Gini Pupo-Walker and Sharon Gentry spoke approvingly of the plan.

“It is definitely the right thing to do. … Fifth grade is a beast. It’s a whole new world both socially and academically and emotionally for our students, so keeping them in one environment where they can continue to get their kinds of supports and stay with familiar face as they make their transition to middle school status is extremely important,” Gentry said.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account

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The move also would increase capacity at some of the district’s most underutilizing schools, such as Park Avenue Elementary, which is at only about 35% capacity, and Hattie Cotton, which is at 46%. 

The ReimaginEd initiative, launched in the fall of 2019, is the district’s efforts to bolster academics in each cluster across the district. Some of its recommendations were first shared last spring before the coronavirus pandemic shifted the district’s focus.

The initiative began with Battle’s decision to close four low-performing, under-capacity schools – Buena Vista Elementary, Robert E. Lillard Elementary, Joelton Middle School and Cohn Learning Center – in North Nashville, sparking backlash among families last spring. 

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Former Director of Schools Shawn Joseph also explored the idea of moving fifth grade back to elementary schools in 2017 as the district explored ways to increase quality options for families and attract middle school parents back to Nashville schools.

The idea was initially pitched as part of Joseph’s superintendent transition team but was eventually scrapped over its $300 million price tag

Instead, the district was left with more than 20 schools with declining or low enrollment – the very problem Battle and the current board are grappling with today.