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Forest City Middle School

Forest City school officials are considering moving fifth grade from the elementary to the middle school.

FOREST CITY | Forest City school officials are considering moving fifth-graders from the elementary to the middle school.

Last week the school board gave permission to the administration to continue exploring this option.

The middle school currently houses students in grades 6-8.

Moving the fifth-graders to the middle school would make more room at the elementary for much-needed all-day care for pre-K children in the community, according to Darwin Lehmann, superintendent of the Forest City school district.  

Due to a lack of daycare facilities in Forest City, families are taking their children to communities such as Clear Lake for care, he said.

This is inconvenient for them because they have to drive out of town after work to pick up their kids and then drive home, according to Lehmann.

He also said when parents have pre-K children going to daycare in a community other than the one in which they live, the chances of those children going to school in their home district later on diminishes. 

The school district currently has a partnership with the Forest City YMCA in which 4-year-olds can spend half the day in daycare and the other half in preschool.

The YMCA uses classroom space at the elementary for daycare, while the district operates the preschool program in a separate space in the building. 

Last year the YMCA merged with the Hanson Family Life Center, which also provides daycare in the community. The Hanson Center employees are now Y employees.

The Hanson Center has a daycare program for 3-year-olds that includes a more formal preschool program several days a week in a separate room. 

Forest City School Board President Bruce Mielke, who is also director of the YMCA, said families are being put on a waiting list for daycare for 3-year-olds because "we are at our max."  

More room at Forest City Elementary would mean the YMCA could expand its partnership with the school district to include providing daycare there for 3-year-olds, according to Mielke.

He said officials haven't decided if the 3-year-old program at the elementary would include a preschool component. 

The program for 3-year-olds would be staffed entirely by the YMCA, according to Lehman. 

He said another advantage of moving fifth-graders to the middle school would be greater flexibility in classroom space when there's a large number of students in one grade at the elementary, according to Lehmann. 

He said an additional fifth-grade teacher had to be hired for the current school year because of the unusually high number of children in that grade.

Lehmann also said having fifth-graders at the middle school could help with staffing because students there move from room to room for different subjects such as math and science.

School board member Kelia Buffington said there's plenty of room in the middle school for the fifth-graders due to declining enrollment. 

Middle School Principal Zach Dillavou said 56 school districts in Iowa have grades 5-8 in middle school. 

Most of those districts are similar in size to Forest City, Lehmann noted. 

Dillavou said the fifth- and sixth-grade teachers could form one team while the seventh- and eighth-grade teachers could have their own team.

Sara Meinders, school board secretary, said sixth grade at the middle school currently is "kind of on its own" because seventh- and eighth-graders are teamed up for things such as athletics. 

Dillavou said in order not to intimidate the fifth-graders, they could eat breakfast in the cafeteria a little later than the older students. 

School board member Jesse Olson said he's "not 100 percent sold" on the plan yet.

Lehmann said the administration hasn't presented a lot of information yet because planning is still in the preliminary stages. 

An informational meeting for the public on moving fifth grade to the middle school will be set for sometime in the spring. The administration will bring more detailed plans to the May school board meeting.

The current target is to have fifth-graders attending the middle school starting with the 2019-20 school year. However, the door is open to the possibility of a 2018-19 start, according to Lehmann.

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