Troy parents concerned about proposal to merge 5th and 6th grades

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff | Posted: Thursday, May 21, 2015 12:00 pm

TROY — A proposal to combine 5th and 6th grades at Troy Elementary School is not sitting well with several parents, who have signed a petition opposing the idea.

But school officials say merging grades has been done before at that school and others across the Monadnock Regional School District and it’s had positive results.

“Our kids are going to benefit from this new approach,” said Principal Audrey H. Salzmann, of the plan to have two, 5th-and-6th-grade classrooms in the 2015-16 school year. “We’re going to be able to address academic, social and emotional needs through this process, and we’re excited about it.”

Salzmann is also principal of Emerson Elementary School in Fitzwilliam.

She said Wednesday multi-age classrooms are common throughout Southwestern New Hampshire because of the many small schools in the area, and sometimes having straight grade levels instead of mixed-grade classrooms doesn’t meet students’ needs.

She said the multi-age classrooms would also help students prepare for the transition to middle school by exposing them to collaborative teaching, and moving between classrooms for different subjects.

But Troy parent Henry M. Sokol said he has concerns about combining the 5th and 6th grades, including the negative academic effects he thinks it could have on students.

Sokol said parents of incoming 5th- and 6th-grade students received a letter from the school on April 30 saying that those classes would be combined.

There has been no formal discussion between parents and school officials on topics such as how the change would happen, the structure of a combined 5th and 6th grade, and the benefits joining the classes would have for students, he said.

After receiving the letter from the school, Sokol said he talked to a couple of other parents about the proposal. They didn’t like the idea either, he said, and felt there needed to be some discussion with school officials. He said he started the petition in the hopes that it might spur those talks.

Twenty parents, including Sokol, signed a petition within the past week urging Monadnock Regional School District officials not to join the classes for the 2015-16 school year.

The signatures represent 12 of the 18 families whose students are 5th-graders at the Troy Elementary School, Sokol said.

Parents who signed the petition believe the proposal to combine the grades will “add an unnecessary complication to an already challenged school,” and that the change will be “detrimental to students’ morale and learning potential,” according to the document.

“Given the lack of empirical data affirming the supposed benefits of combining the two classes, we would like to encourage you to reconsider your decision, and to proceed with two separate classes,” the petition said.

The petition references some past and upcoming changes at the school including the recent rearrangement of teachers’ grade assignments, the creation of a preschool class for the 2015-16 school year, two veteran teachers leaving the school, and the departure of the guidance counselor ahead of this school year.

Most recently available school enrollment data from the N.H. Department of Education indicated that 136 students in kindergarten through 6th grade attended Troy Elementary School as of Oct. 1, 2014. Of those students, 17 were in 5th grade, and 26 were in 6th grade. The school’s 4th grade had 17 students, followed by 19 in the 3rd grade, 20 each in the 1st and 2nd grades, and 17 in kindergarten.

Mixed-grade classrooms are nothing new to the Monadnock Regional School District, which also has them at Emerson Elementary School and the Gilsum STEAM Academy, Interim Superintendent Keith M. Pfeifer said.

Salzmann said Troy Elementary School itself has a long history of multi-age classrooms, and looking at the incoming 5th and 6th grades there, staff feel a mixed-grade classroom will be good for those students.

Sokol said he emailed the petition to school board members Tuesday afternoon ahead of the board’s meeting that night because he wouldn’t be able to attend.

During Tuesday’s meeting, school board member Scott Peters of Troy said he received Sokol’s email, and that he had corresponded with Sokol about the matter.

He briefly updated board members about Sokol’s concerns, and said if the school board needed to vote on the matter, the issue should be referred to Salzmann and her team. They have a plan to address it, and are scheduling a meeting with parents to discuss the transition, he said.

Board members agreed and took no action, saying they supported school administration and staff in addressing the parents’ concerns.

Soon after Sokol submitted the petition to the school board, he said he received a call from Salzmann, who told him she’s planning the meeting with parents.

“It’s a step in the right direction, and that may be all that is necessary,” Sokol said.