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Panel to Evaluate Middle Schools

School Board creates committee to take a look at reorganization.

Consider the scenario: Two eight-grade students get into a fight in the cafeteria of Hammond Middle School. One is enrolled at Hammond 1, and gets a slap on the wrist before being sent back to class. The other is enrolled at Hammond 3, and gets suspended for a week. That's the hodgepodge of administration that is concerning to School Board members, who are creating a new committee to examine the middle school reorganization of 2009 that broke two existing facilities into five separate schools.

"I can understand how it creates a certain chaos in their environment," said School Board Chairwoman Karen Graf.

This week, members of the School Board directed Superintendent Morton Sherman to put a committee of stakeholders together to examine the middle school reorganization of 2009. That's when the city's two existing middle school facilities were split into five separate schools — two at George Washington Middle School and three at Hammond Middle School. Stakeholders will include staff, parents, students and a School Board member.

"It's an open call," said Sherman. "I would not turn anyone away who wanted to be involved in it."

EVER SINCE the two buildings were split into five schools, opinions have been divided about whether or not the split was a good idea. School Board members say feedback from George Washington seems positive, imploring school officials to keep the new organization. But comments from Hammond seem to indicate that having multiple administrative structures in the same building presents an inconsistent approach to grading and discipline.

"Those are things we need to address this fall," said Kelly Carmichael Booz.

Sherman said he would find a way to create more consistency within the separate schools that are housed in the same buildings in the short term. Meanwhile, he will be putting together a structure for how the committee would work and how it might create a set of criteria to evaluate. In a memorandum outlining the creation of the committee, Sherman said members would review student achievement, student efficacy, school structure, teaming, progress monitoring, advisory models, career plans and academic plans.

"I don't want this to be seen as putting something into a black hole," warned School Board member Justin Keating.

TEST SCORES show that performance at the middle schools is below the statewide average. Charts given to School Board members show Standards of Learning outcomes in reading have improved at Hammond, although they have fallen at George Washington. Meanwhile math scores have plummeted at Hammond and George Washington.

"These scores are diving," said School Board member Pat Hennig. "Obviously, there's a problem."

Since the reorganization, three of five middle schools have been accredited with warning and two of the five principals have announced they are leaving — one is stepping down after his first year on the job and another is retiring. School Board member Bill Campbell says that means now is the time to take a look at moving back to two middle schools.

"We have a not seen sustained positive achievement gains since the split," Campbell said. "I believe that the best opportunity for consistent achievement at the middle-school level is single schools with strong leaders."