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— The fifth graders in the Decatur School District will have a new home this school year, as the district reconfigured its grades as a money-saving procedure.

When school starts Wednesday, the fifth graders will report to Decatur Northside Elementary School, the district's new elementary school. The school was constructed to allow for growth, but now that growth has slowed down, there's room for the fifth grade at the school. That will mean kindergarten through fifth grade will all be housed at the elementary school. Students in grades 6-12 will be housed in the same complex of buildings, but the older and younger students will still be segregated, principal Tommy Baker said.

All these moves are being done so that the school district could shut down the middle school, saving thousands in valuable operations money every year. Although the move was made for financial reasons, administrators can see other benefits as well.

"I'm really looking forward to it," elementary principal Leslie Sharp said. "It will bemore effective (for the fifth graders) emotionally and socially."

The transition of having fifth graders in the elementary school will not take quite as many adjustments as the older students, but there are procedures in place for those older students. Baker said grades 6-8 will still be in one building and 9-12 (the high school) will have their own area.

As the school district prepares for this transition, many people are simply grateful the school district not only still exists, but is doing well. This time last year, Decatur was placed under state control and it was unclear if the 2008-09 school year would be its last.

Instead of falling further behind in its financial situation, the district surpassed all expectations. It ended last fiscal year more than $600,000 in the black.

"We're still watching what we spend," Baker said. "But we're looking forward to this year, if we can make gains we can get our school board back."

The district also hired a curriculum coordinator who starts this school year. Work will be done to align the curriculum between each grade level to make sure that the education is seamless for the students. All this is an effort to improve test scores, Baker said.

News, Pages 7 on 08/19/2009

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