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Seattle Will Restructure Its Middle Schools

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Officials of the Seattle Public Schools announced last week that they will restructure the system's 10 middle schools in a project aimed primarily at improving the education of minority and disadvantaged students.

The joint venture by the district and the National Association of State Boards of Education builds on a 1986 task-force report critical of the city's middle schools, which serve some 6,500 students.

The panel called for substantial changes in curriculum, instruction, and organization.

The project also reflects a concern that the school-reform movement has paid little attention to poor and minority students in the middle grades, said Brenda Welburn, deputy executive director of nasbe.

"This is a serious omission," she said. "It is in the middle grades that many of these students begin to fall behind academically and to exhibit the attitudes and behaviors that all too often lead to their dropping out."

William Kendrick, Seattle's superintendent of schools, acknowledged that the district is "not effectively serving minority and disadvantaged students."

The academic performance of minority students lags behind that of whites, he noted, and the expulsion rate for blacks is twice that of whites.

"We need to make change that is systemic and not simply cosmetic," he said.

The Edna McConnell Clark Foundation has provided a $118,000 planning grant for the project, expected to take at least three years.

The effort will involve creation of a new Commission for Improving Middle Grades Education, com8prising representatives from Seattle's business, civic, parent, and community-based organizations, as well as state and local education officials.

The panel will examine such issues as school structure and climate, curriculum and instructional practices, staff training, and support from organizations outside the schools, according to project organizers.

Nasbe will assist in the project by providing staff expertise and arranging for the involvement of national experts on adolescent development, middle-school organization, and school change.

The district is also planning to shift all of its middle schools to a 6th-through-8th-grade configuration in September 1989. At present, some schools serve children in grades 6 through 8, while others serve 7th and 8th graders only.--lo

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