In a bid to reduce overcrowding and boost students’ social development, officials at Johnson City Schools said they were on track to move to two colleges starting in August.
Currently, Johnson City fifth and sixth graders attend Indian Trail Middle School before moving on to Liberty Bell Middle School for seventh and eighth grades.
Starting next school year, fifth graders will return to elementary level, and Liberty Bell and Indian Trail will become colleges serving sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
Superintendent Steve Barnett said the changes will allow students to spend more time with classmates, teachers and coaches before moving to another school. Students will also have better access to extracurricular activities.
The changes will also help ease a bottleneck at Indian Trail Middle School, which currently has 100 or more students above its capacity of 1,100.
The transfer from fifth grade to elementary school required the city to build 20 additional classrooms in three of the elementary schools in the system: four in the South Side, eight in Woodland and eight in Lake Ridge.
“It really helps us with our ability,” Barnett said. “That gives us a few years. We’ll always have capacity issues to resolve, but we’ve been overcrowded at Indian Trail for some time now.
Johnson City has seen its population increase to more than 71,000 people in 2020, and if the community continues to grow as expected, Barnett said, schools may need more space to accommodate elementary students. Towne Acres Elementary School, for example, is an aging facility that authorities will likely need to modernize, he said.
“We’ll just have to keep looking at that and working with the city and with the county to make decisions on how we develop,” he said. Many of those decisions will ultimately depend on where Johnson City sees their population grow.
The South Side classroom additions are complete and Barnett expects the Woodland additions to end in mid-January.
The city is also completing HVAC upgrades in Woodland and Lake Ridge, where crews are dividing work into zones. The HVAC improvements at Lake Ridge could extend into the 2022-2023 school year, Barnett said, and students may have to move to different rooms while crews complete this work.
“(We will) try to interrupt classes as little as possible,” he said.
School officials also assess staffing levels at both schools.
Barnett said the system surveyed employees at Indian Trail and Liberty Bell to gauge their interests. Some teachers at Liberty Bell will switch to Indian Trail or vice versa, and some instructors will switch to grade five students at the elementary level.
Barnett said he and mid-level supervisor Todd Barnett also spent a lot of time with human resources to identify the best places for employees.
The system ensures that there are adequate resources for extracurricular activities and athletic programs at both schools. They are also developing comparable programs at both schools for middle school students in full development classes, which serve students with disabilities.