By Kevin Kelley
Gilles-Sweet Elementary School will have two graduating classes this year.
The 2012-2013 school year will be the last one at the West 220th Street building for both this year’s fifth- and sixth-grade classes. Students in both classes will move on to Lewis F. Mayer Middle School next year.
The reason is simply numbers, said Fairview Park City Schools Superintendent Brion Deitsch. Enrollment at Gilles-Sweet is growing rapidly, making classroom space scarce.
The sixth-grade class is the second to be moved from Gilles-Sweet. In the fall of 2009, the kindergarten classes were moved to the district’s Early Education Center, formerly called Parkview Intermediate School, on Mastick Road. The reason was also overcrowding at Gilles-Sweet.
When Gilles-Sweet opened in the fall of 2007 to students in kindergarten through grade six, the enrollment was around 750 students, Deitsch said. Today, just with grades one through six, the enrollment is nearly 800, he said.
The school district’s Gemini Project, in which voters approved a capital improvement levy to pay for construction of the new elementary school, was designed to attract young families to Fairview Park, the superintendent said. The higher enrollment numbers at the school show that goal was accomplished, he added.
“I think the schools are a big factor in people coming to Fairview,” Deitsch told West Life.
When the Gemini Project was first envisioned, the district planned to build an addition to Mayer Middle School and teach sixth-graders there. That plan was later nixed by Deitsch. But at the time, some parents expressed concern about sixth-graders being on the same campus with older students. Fairview High School is adjacent to the middle school. The feeling is that 11-year-olds will be forced to grow up too fast when moved out of the elementary school building.
Deitsch said he’s heard that concern repeated a few times as news of the sixth-graders’ pending move circulated. But he said there’s no cause for worry, as the sixth-grade classrooms will be near administrators’ offices. And he noted that younger students and older students are often at the same high school sporting events without any problems.
The school board has not officially approved the move of the sixth-graders yet, but is not required to, Deistch said. When details have been finalized, a letter will be sent to parents of next year’s sixth-graders, the superintendent said. Extra efforts will be made to ease the students’ transition, he added.
Five classrooms, including a science lab, at the middle school will be renovated this summer in anticipation of the sixth-graders’ move.
The district will also renovate classrooms at the Mastick Road Early Education Center in case enrollment continues to explode and first-grade classes have to be taught there one day, Deitsch said. This fall, Gilles-Sweet will educate at least six sections – around 160 students – of first-graders, he said.