Fifth-graders to go to Avery?

A flurry of anxious parents and staffers gathered at a Vallecito Union School District board of trustees meeting Wednesday night to cry foul as the district begins talk of moving the district’s fifth-graders to Avery Middle School.

Placed on the agenda as a discussion item – during which trustees would presumably give direction to Superintendent Phyllis Parisi as to how they would like her to proceed – board President Wayne Harrison told parents and teachers that Wednesday’s was the first discussion that had officially come before trustees.

“We’ve started the internal conversation,” Parisi said, after admitting that the notion of shifting fifth-graders to the Avery campus has come up for the past three years.

She said that the district might realize financial savings in transportation, food service and staffing costs were the move to be made, but said that district officials are “trying to address several different challenges.”

Parisi said that the district’s declining enrollment – it is projected the district would have 82 fewer children in classes by the 2014-15 school year – is one of the challenges driving the discussion, but Wednesday’s conversation was just a first step in a lengthy process.

Sara Tuthill, a teacher at Mark Twain Elementary School in Angels Camp who said she has a son and daughter in the district’s schools, said she is against moving fifth-graders to a middle school campus, where sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders’ lives are much different than those of 9- and 10-year-olds. She worried about issues like sexual innuendo, drugs and even social interactions that are different in elder students than they are for fifth-graders.

It was also suggested that there isn’t enough playground equipment on the Avery campus for the fifth-graders from Michelson and Hazel Fischer elementary schools to use.

Harrison and Parisi stressed that this was the beginning of the discussion. And while the agenda item did note that the move was considered for the 2013-14 school year, Harrison asked trustees Jill Bray and Alison Nilsen how they felt and the board assured attendees that the move would not be made that soon. Trustees Ralph Emerson and Carol Gordon were absent.

“There is no proposal that we are looking at,” Harrison said. “If there is movement (on the issue), there will be opportunities for public input.”

Parisi said she wants to bring stakeholders – parents, staff, students and community members – together to discuss philosophies of education and which direction the district might go, noting that kindergarten-through-eighth-grade campuses have been the most often studied elementary school settings. She said the board will schedule a study session during which the potential benefits of the move could be explored and challenges addressed.

“We want to have a positive conversation,” she said. The board took no action on the matter Wednesday. A study session may be scheduled in April.

Earlier in the meeting, food service site manager Kathy Olson was recognized as the classified employee of the year. She said she was honored to receive the award for the second year running.

“I know how many great people work in the district,” she said. “It’s an honor.”

Seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher Tim Weidmann was named the certificated staff member of the year.

“It’s so much fun to come to work,” he said.

Also, the trustees accepted the Apple Distinguished School Award for Avery Middle School from Apple employee Mark Rand. This is the third year in a row that AMS earned the distinction, and Rand said he was checking to see if that has happened before anywhere in the United States. About 200 schools across the country were named distinguished schools this year.

Contact Mike Taylor at mtaylor@calaverasenterprise.-com. Send news tips to