Higley district considering middle schools to deal with growth - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Higley district considering middle schools to deal with growth

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Posted: Tuesday, March 1, 2011 2:15 pm | Updated: 8:56 pm, Wed Mar 2, 2011.

Higley schools may get a structure makeover.

As the Higley Unified School District faces growth — one of nine districts in the state in that situation, according to its leaders — the district is taking the opportunity to see if the community wants to remake its schools. The district will hold two parents meetings — one Thursday night, one next week — to introduce the middle school concept.

The district now has eight kindergarten through eighth-grade campuses and is the only district in the East Valley to still follow that format.

Its neighbors have middle schools or junior highs — with seventh- and eighth-graders on some campuses and kindergarten through sixth grade on other campuses.

With the district expecting to grow by 200 to 300 students for the next few years, “We need a new facility or two, no matter what we do,” said Tony Malaj, the district’s executive director for support services. “We still have kids coming.”

By combining seventh- and eighth-graders on a single campus, there may be opportunities to offer more electives because there will be more teachers on campus, assistant superintendent Steve Nance said.

“The forums we’re having now is to put the idea out there and find out what interest there is in the community, knowing we will need more facilities,” he said. “If we were to open one or two middle schools with seventh and eighth grade, that would free up considerable space at our existing K-8 schools for future growth and we’d be in good shape for awhile.”

A middle school does cost a bit more to build than an elementary school — $17 million to $18 million compared to $15 million to $16 million, Malaj said.

The housing crash halted the district’s plans to use all of the $121 million in bond funds voters approved in 2006. Districts can only sell bonds based on a percentage of assessed valuation, which has been dropping in recent years.

Legislation is making its way through the ranks at the Capitol to change that, Malaj said. Right now, the district has $71 million in unused bond funds.

District leadership is trying to put plans in place for possible governing board approval should the Legislature make the change. It takes 18 to 24 months to take a school from empty lot to welcoming students on opening day, Malaj said.

The Higley governing board could also consider creating a school based on the popular back-to-basics concept that several neighborhood districts offer, Malaj said.

The Mesa Unified School District is in the process of changing the format at its junior highs. For decades, they have held seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders. This year, some of those ninth-graders were moved to a few of the district’s high schools. The remainder will move next year.

A few school districts offer campuses with different formats, such at the Gilbert Classical Academy for students in seventh through 12th grade or Mesa Academy for Advanced Studies, which currently holds grades five through nine.

About 70 percent of Arizona’s charter schools serve kindergarten through eighth grade.

CONTACT WRITER: (480) 898-6549 or mreese@evtrib.com

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