Editorial

Full steam ahead? Not so fast

San Luis Coastal should proceed with care in plan to move sixth-graders into high-tech program at middle school

letters@thetribunenews.comDecember 10, 2012 

San Luis Coastal is moving in the right direction by strengthening its math, science and technology program, but we believe it’s premature to require 135 sixth-graders to transfer to middle school next year for a new, high-tech program.

If that plan is endorsed by the school board tonight, current fifth-graders at Del Mar, Baywood and Monarch Grove elementary schools would be required to attend sixth grade at Los Osos Middle School.

Those students would take part in a program called STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math). Each STEAM student would be issued a laptop computer or tablet — an investment that would cost the district around $100,000.

That’s a forward-thinking curriculum that should better prepare students for high school, college and beyond. However, the program faces serious opposition from some parents, and we believe that’s cause to step back and make sure that parents’ concerns are understood and fully addressed.

Ideally, we’d like to see the district begin the program on a voluntary, trial basis. That would allow the administration to point to a track record of success before it mandates that all students in Los Osos, Baywood and Morro Bay take part.

If that’s not possible, we urge the school board to delay a final decision and take more time to discuss the proposal — along with any alternatives — with parents at the affected schools.

We also strongly urge the district to survey those parents, because so far we’ve heard mostly from those who strongly object to the plan.

Some of those opponents believe sixth-graders just aren’t ready for middle school. There’s also an impression that the district is making the switch because it wants to shuffle sixth-graders off their home campuses — since Del Mar and Baywood schools are running out of space — and not so much because it’s in the best educational interests of children.

We understand why parents would be concerned, but we aren’t buying the argument that middle school “hooligans” are going to corrupt sixth-graders. Los Osos Middle School is a small, well-run campus, and we believe the district has a sound plan for keeping sixth-graders safe and well supervised.

And while the move works well logistically — Los Osos Middle School has plenty of space, so it makes sense to increase enrollment there — we also believe district officials are convinced that there are clear educational advantages in the new configuration.

However, the switch seems to be happening awfully quickly, leaving some parents with the impression that they’re being STEAMrolled.

Again, those parents may be in the minority, but without a survey, we don’t know how widespread the opposition — or support — may be.

Bottom line: STEAM could become an exemplary program that would give SLO Coastal students a lifelong advantage.

But we don’t believe families are sold on that idea yet. The district should slow down and do more homework before it mandates that all Los Osos and Morro Bay sixth-graders enroll in a middle school program.

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