Amherst Sixth Grade To Move To Middle School in 2023

Amherst Regional Middle School and Amherst Public Schools District Offices. Photo: Amherst Public Schools

The Amherst School Committee voted this week to move the sixth grade from the three Amherst elementary schools to the regional middle school beginning in fall 2023. The move is primarily driven by the Amherst elementary school building project and by space challenges at Fort River and Wildwood that resulted from Covid-related renovations undertaken last year. 

Prior to the vote, the committee heard from the three elementary school principals about the space challenges and asked whether they think they can make it work for another year if sixth grade is not moved until fall 2023. 

Crocker Farm Principal Derek Shea said he felt moving the sixth grade was the right decision but stressed the need for investment in both the Crocker Farm building and in items that would make it easier for specialist staff (like OT/PT, speech and language, reading intervention, etc.) who do not have a dedicated office to move around to deliver services to children. According to Shea, many specialists currently provide instruction or therapy in hallways, in the cafeteria, and in other spaces. “It becomes a bit of a daily grind to find appropriate space for those teachers,” he said.

In addition, Shea identified a number of issues in the building that need to be resolved including the gymnasium floor, which has become badly warped from humidity, and a number of playground issues. He also made a plea for basic building improvements that would make things “go more smoothly for staff in the mornings,” for example ensuring that windows open and close properly and that chillers come on and go off at the right times. A 2020 study estimated the cost of a base repair of Crocker Farm at $9.25 million.

For Principals Nick Yaffe at Wildwood and Michelle Hernandez at Fort River, finding space for classrooms and specialists will continue to be a challenge for the 2022-2023 school year but they believe they can make it work. “It’s really important to me that the sixth grade transition is done well and people have the time to plan it,” Yaffe said. 

Although moving the sixth grade in 2023 will ease some of the space pressures, committee member Kerry Spitzer noted it will not be a silver bullet. “We’ve lost more classrooms than we’re going to gain back,” Spitzer said. “It’s not just next year we need to be thinking about, it is the years until we have a new building.” 

The project to build a new school to replace Fort River and Wildwood is estimated to be completed by fall 2026. Renovations last year of the six open-classroom “quads” at both Fort River and Wildwood schools converted the 24 quad spaces into 12 large classrooms. Moving sixth grade will free up two or three classrooms at each school. 

The Regional School Committee, which includes representatives from Pelham, Leverett, and Shutesbury, are scheduled to vote on October 12 to allow Amherst’s sixth grade to be located in the middle school building. It is up to the three other member towns to decide whether to move their sixth graders, but conversations to date have indicated that is unlikely.

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3 thoughts on “Amherst Sixth Grade To Move To Middle School in 2023

  1. Moving the sixth grade to the Middle School is definitely the right thing to do.
    It will improve the physical environment and learning experience for all of our elementary school children (ref. the comments by the 3 Principals).

  2. I agree with Martha. We need to provide an uncrowded, otherwise safe and comfortable physical environment for the students.
    I know there are people who question the wisdom of having 6th graders in a building with the older 7th and 8th graders. Many middle schools in this country accommodate grades 5 through 8. In most situations, attention is given to the areas occupied by the older students vs those by the younger ones. I have grandchildren who have been in middle schools as 5th graders, and I am not aware of any negative experiences. Parents have a responsibility to listen to any concerns their children have re this move, and to really be open to their children voicing their concerns or sharing experiences.

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