Math, science academy sought for middle schoolers

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - It would be a BAMS on a young scale.

Having seen the success of the BAMS program over the past few years, Bullitt County educators are looking to bring that high school math and science academy to middle school students.

Members of the Bullitt County Public School Board will have an opportunity tonight to determine whether the magnet-type program is allowed to move forward with an opening planned for August.

According to Robb Smith, director of secondary education, there appeared to be a lot of interest in housing a math and science academy at Hebron Middle School.

Like BAMS, it would be a voluntary program.

Parents with students in grades 5-7 who met certain criteria were given an opportunity to learn more about the program and then express their interest.

Smith said 119 families responded that they had some interest in the program. The most came from Hebron and Eastside middle schools.

The matter was a topic of discussion during the board's monthly workshop sessions.

Board member Roger Hayes asked for a few more details about the program.

Smith said the plan would be to have a group of 75-100 students with a maximum of 108, or 36 per grade level.

The day would include instruction in math and science; however, students would also be spending part of their day in the regular Hebron classrooms to pick up other requirements.

The reason Hebron was selected as the school was due to its space capacity. Also, superintendent Keith Davis said there was some concern that if Eastside was selected due to its available space, there would be comments made that the Mount Washington school was getting preferential treatment.

Board member Lorraine McLaughlin inquired about what would happen to the test scores of the participants.

Smith said that they would become part of the Hebron student body.

But Davis quickly said such a move would not be a way to "fix" test scores at Hebron or to hurt the original schools.

"It's not about test scores," said Davis. "It's about meeting the needs of our students."

Hayes would like to see the program at each of the middle schools.

Davis said it would not be viable to have at each school. There would not be enough eligible or interested students to fill a class.

Also, there is some research to show that the students from the various schools will challenge one another to excel, said the superintendent.

In terms of hurting  the originating schools in testing, Davis said the number of students per school should not make affect those scores.

Instead, Davis said the board and the district needs to focus on what is being done to serve the students.

"Parents want their children to be challenged," said board member Dolores Ashby. "I like the idea of our kids being challenged."

But Hayes countered that by the increased rigor at each school, shouldn't those students already be challenged.

He liked a recent demonstration on robotics by Mount Washington Middle students and that is something that should be done at all the schools.

Laveda Hayes, a retired educator, said her biggest concern is more of a social issue. She wasn't sure middle school students are mature enough to have such a concentrated program of study, although she was sure they were academically smart enough.

And, while there are discussions about past students graduating but not being successful, she said that there have been many examples of local graduates excelling in life.

Davis said he wasn't afraid that the students were being pushed too hard. It is a voluntary program and students could opt to return to their home schools.

Smith said he would not be in favor of the academy if he thought the middle school students could not handle the situation or if he thought they were too isolated.

He worried about some of the same social issues that Hayes addressed. That is why it is important that they spend a good portion of their day in the other classes at Hebron.

Transportation issues have not yet been worked out but it would be provided by the district.

One parent went beyond the student who might opt to participate. Not only would the school community lose that student but also his or her parents.

Having a student at Mount Washington Middle, he was amazed at the things his daughter has learned and can do. He was just worried that some of the families who have long been involved in that particular school would be lost if their child participated in the program.

Davis agreed that it would be great to have such a math and science program at each school. For various reasons, that may not be possible.

The existing gifted and talented programs will continue, said Smith.

The board will have the matter on the agenda at the 6 p.m. meeting. It is open to the public and will be held at the Central Office.