Moving 6th graders to the middle school delayed to fall ’25 or fall ’26

At the February 16 meeting of the Amherst School Committee, the committee voted to delay moving 6th graders to the Amherst Regional Middle School building to fall of 2025 or fall of 2026.

Change to the original plan (to move 6th graders in fall ’23) was first proposed by Superintendent Mike Morris last month. At the Feb 16 meeting, Mike introduced the idea of delaying the move later than fall ’23, but possibly making the move sooner than fall ’26. He suggested that the School Committee might prefer to have some flexibility, given the ongoing space constraints at Fort River, which will not get any better in the coming years, and a new piece of information regarding the “regional agreement.”

The “regional agreement” is an agreement signed by the four towns in the Amherst Regional Public Schools district (Amherst, Leverett, Pelham, and Shutesbury). The agreement was signed decades ago and includes, among other things, the agreement that the Amherst Regional Middle and High Schools would educate students in grades 7 through 12. Because the regional agreement does not include 6th graders, the original plan was for the Amherst 6th grade students to attend a separate “6th grade academy” (essentially a school-within-a-school) housed in the middle school building, but not actually be enrolled in middle school.

In order for Amherst (or any) 6th graders to be enrolled in the Amherst Regional Middle School, the regional agreement would need to be modified. However, modifying a regional school district agreement is a lengthy and involved process that could take several years from start to finish. In recent meetings with DESE (the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), Mike learned that the department is open to the idea of adding an amendment to a regional agreement without the need to take on the lengthy process of modifying the agreement. This would allow for integration of the 6th graders into the middle school, instead of the school-within-a-school model, and could be accomplished in a shorter time frame.

After discussion and debate, the School Committee voted to delay moving 6th graders to the middle school to fall ’25 or fall ’26, and to make that decision no later than November 2024. This means that this year’s 4th and 5th graders will not attend 6th grade at the middle school. The first cohort to attend 6th grade at the middle school would be this year’s 2nd or 3rd graders, with that decision to be made by November 2024.

This motion passed 3-1 as follows:
Shiao: Yes
McDonald: Yes
Demling: Yes
Rhodes: No
Herrington: Absent

You can watch the video of this discussion, which starts around 52 minutes into the meeting here: