Atascadero Fine Arts Academy looks to eliminate fourth grade

slinn@thetribunenews.comMarch 3, 2014 

Atascadero Fine Arts Academy could see its population shrink next school year if a plan to drop the school’s youngest students goes through.

At Tuesday's Atascadero Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting, Principal Kirk Smith will recommend discontinuing fourth grade at his school — making the Fine Arts Academy open only to fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

“We really do think it’s in the best interest of the kids of the school,” said Smith, who is in his fourth year as Fine Arts Academy principal. He also serves as principal of Monterey Road Elementary School in Atascadero.

In a letter sent to parents and guardians on Friday, Smith said there are three main reasons behind his recommendation.

Primary among them is his belief that most fourth-graders haven’t reached the same level of maturity as students in the following grades.

“There’s a big gap there,” Smith said Monday, noting that most Fine Arts Academy students are between the ages of 10 and 14, while fourth-graders tend to be 9 years old. “(In fifth grade) you’re not just a year older. You’re entering a different development stage.”

That limits the school’s ability to create electives such as drama and creative writing that are accessible to all grade levels, Smith said, freezing up scheduling.

In his letter, Smith said the school's unique schedule, which offers core academic courses in the mornings and arts electives in the afternoons, is better suited for older students.

In addition, Smith said he wants a more intimate learning experience for Fine Arts Academy students.

“A consistent message that I’ve heard since I’ve been there is ‘Parents like a small school,’” Smith explained.

Eliminating fourth grade would drop the school’s student population, currently at 215 students, to 180 or 190, he said. The move would also result in the loss of one staff member.

Since the Fine Arts Academy attracts students from elementary schools throughout the district, those populations would swell slightly, he said.

Tuesday's meeting starts at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 5601 West Mall in Atascadero. For more information, call 462-4200 or visit www.atasusd.org.

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