FOREST CITY | Forest City school officials heard questions and concerns from the public during a meeting, last week, about a proposal to move fifth-graders to the middle school. 

"Are we trying to make our kids grow up too fast?" one parent asked. 

Forest City Middle School Principal Zach Dillavou said there's always uncertainty whenever students transition into a new building, no matter what grade they are in. 

School officials said they plan to do everything they can to make the transition from elementary to middle school easier for the fifth-graders. 

The school board and administration are considering three options for the middle school:

• Relocate the fifth-grade students to the middle school beginning this fall, but retain an elementary structure with a single teacher for the majority of the day for that school year and wait until the 2019-20 school year to implement a middle school structure for fifth grade. 

• Relocate fifth-grade students to the middle school beginning in the fall of 2019 with a middle school structure for them. 

• Make no change. 

A fourth option that school officials have already eliminated is relocating fifth-graders to the middle school this fall with a middle school structure. 

Middle school structure means the students rotate classrooms and have designated grade-level teachers for various subjects.

The administration will recommend one of the three current options during the board's March 12 meeting. The board is expected to take action that night. 

Forest City Schools Superintendent Darwin Lehmann said the change would help meet the need for day care in the community, by making more room for it at the elementary.

The number of in-home day care sites in the community has decreased. There's also a waiting list for day care provided by the Forest City YMCA, which merged with the Hanson Family Life Center, last year.

This means some working parents who have babies and toddlers are driving an extra 30 miles each way to drop off their children at day care facilities in other communities and pick them up at the end of the day, according to Lehmann. 

He said this could cause families to move out of the district, leading enrollment to decrease even more than it already has.

The district currently has a partnership with the YMCA in which four-year-olds can spend half the day in day care and the other half in preschool. 

The YMCA uses classroom space at the elementary for four-year-old day care, while the district operates the preschool program in a separate space in the building. 

More space at the elementary would mean the district would have room for YMCA-provided day care for three-year-olds, as well.

Lehmann said the change also would help the district with family mobility issues, which affect staffing plans and the budget.

He said the district had an unexpected influx of students in fifth grade this year. Another teacher for that grade level had to be hired, leading to a $70,000 impact on the general fund balance.

Having fifth-graders at the middle school also means the fifth- and sixth-grader teachers would be able to collaborate, according to Lehmann.

When asked why the YMCA can't provide day care at Forest City Christian School, Lehmann said, "That was the first thing we looked at."

However, their playground doesn't meet the standards required for day care and would have to be updated, he said. 

There's plenty of room at Forest City Middle School for the fifth-graders, according to Lehmann. 

Dillavou said the middle school has a wing for seventh and eighth grade and a separate wing for sixth grade.

If fifth grade is moved to the middle school, those students will share the sixth-grade wing. 

Students in grades 6-12 currently eat breakfast at the same time in the commons area.

Dillavou said if fifth grade moves to the middle school, those students will go straight to their homerooms in the morning and won't go to the cafeteria for breakfast until the other students have left. 

The sixth, seventh and eighth-graders are already eating lunch at separate times, and the fifth-graders would also have their own lunch time, according to Dillavou. 

He also said fifth-graders would be dismissed for the day five minutes earlier than the other middle school students. 

One parent said the current fifth-graders are given a little more independence during the school year to prepare them for the move from elementary to middle school.

However, the fourth-graders aren't getting that, and if the board decides to move fifth-grade to the middle school this fall, those students will only have a few months at the end of the school year to prepare, she said. 

Dillavou said the middle school is "not a cutthroat atmosphere by any means. We are pretty caring people."

Those who attended the meeting were offered tours of the middle school afterwards.

For more information, visit www.forestcity.k12.ia.us and under "District News and Announcements," click on the link titled "Feb. 26 Informational Meeting Presentation."