Putting Education Reform To The Test

Orange County Opting For More K-8 Schools


Orange County is planning to add up to five K-8 schools. Research shows students at those schools tend to perform better and have fewer discipline problems.

The popularity of K-8 schools is growing in one of Florida’s largest districts.

Orange County Public Schools will add up to five kindergarten through 8th grade schools to the three already in place.

These are traditional public schools, not charters or magnets. Kids will be zoned for them just like any other.

“A growing body of research shows the K-8 model is correlated to higher student achievement, higher attendance, and lower student discipline levels,” Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said during the State of the Schools address.

The average middle school in Orange County has 1,000 students. The new K-8 schools will have similar student populations.

“Our research has shown that the optimal size of a K-8 is 900 to 1,200 students,” Jenkins said. “Anything larger, and we need to build a traditional middle school. Anything smaller, and we cannot justify the operating costs.”

The key to their popularity is that K-8 schools are smaller and the kids only have to make one transition — into high school.

But private schools and charters are often the only option for parents who prefer a K-8 school.

“What I really like is the sense of community and ownership that it gives the kids,” said Valerie Smith, whose children attend a K-8 charter school in Tallahassee. “For them to have a sense of identity with their school for such a long period of time – there are great traditions that I think are important for rooting kids and giving them confidence.”

“The elementary (students) look up to the middle school,” Smith said. “When you are in a place where – as 6th, 7th and 8th graders – you’re being looked up to, I think for a lot of kids that affects their behavior in a positive way.”

The proposed K-8 schools in Orange County will go up in urban neighborhoods and places where schools are bursting at the seams. The first one will be completed in 2016 to alleviate overcrowding on the southeast side.

The next one will be in the Parramore area, just blocks away from downtown Orlando.

“For more than 40 years, OCPS operated under a desegregation order,” said school board chairman Bill Sublette, whose children attend a K-8 school. “One effect of the order was that the children of Parramore were bused to nine different elementary schools.

“In 2010, the federal court oversight ended. Now we can bring these children home,” Sublette said. “We intend to build them a new, state of the art K-8 school within walking distance of their neighborhoods.”

Existing schools won’t be converted to add the extra grades, but some will likely be consolidated to form one new school.


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