Murray Junior High School gets ready for middle school

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Since Thanksgiving, fifth- and sixth-graders have been arriving en masse to the halls of Murray Junior High School, 2200 Buford Ave., to spend time checking out classrooms and shadowing older students. Those crowds of young faces are a harbinger of the big change happening at the school next fall when it moves from a seventh- and eighth-grade junior high school to a middle school that will include sixth grade.

The 2013-14 school year marks the second year of St. Paul Public Schools’ new enrollment plan, Strong Schools, Strong Communities. Come fall, the district’s community elementary schools will transition to grades K-5, sixth-graders will move to middle schools and the new boundaries will take effect for elementary and middle schools, many of which will lose their magnet status and districtwide transportation.

Schools in Como Park and St. Anthony Park are part of Area E, and that includes Chelsea Heights, Como Park, Galtier, Hancock-Hamline and St. Anthony Park elementary schools. Students at those schools will feed into Murray Middle School.

Having two grades of students coming from five elementary schools prompted Murray principal Tim Williams to streamline the touring and shadowing process at the school. “We contacted all five schools to set up a day where all the students from each grade would come to spend a day.”

When school resumes in January after winter break, the school will open tours and shadowing days to students outside the attendance area. “We still have a fair amount of requests from kids who live outside our attendance area,” Williams said. “I don’t know if they will get in necessarily, but we will set up a couple of days for students who live outside the area.”

Moving a mass amount of preadolescents through the school before winter break is the beginning of many changes the school will see in the coming year.

To accommodate another age group of students, Williams said the school is planning to reorganize classrooms and curriculum.

“The biggest change is how our entire building will be set up [next year],” Williams said. “We are moving to interdisciplinary teams and those teams will be geographically located.”

Murray classrooms are currently divided by subject area, but Williams is hoping to keep teams in the same area so that each grade is on its own floor. Each teaching team will be made up of four core teachers: math, science, English and social studies. Williams anticipates two teams per grade.

“There will be about 135 kids on a team,” he said. One team of four teachers will teach the core classes to the same 135 students. The teachers’ classrooms will be near each other and teachers will collaborate in teaching, working with the students and developing curriculum, Williams said. Students will leave the area for elective classes.

“One-hundred-and-thirty-five kids is a lower number than what our teachers have now,” he said. “It should help with the relationship piece. Now they see between 170 and 180 kids a day.

“One of the reasons we are going to this model is to give middle-schoolers the additional year to develop relationships,” Williams said. Though the sixth grade will have its own curriculum, the students in that grade will be able to participate in band, foreign languages and other electives at the school.

Murray’s current curriculum provides accelerated classes in its core subjects for students who need the challenge. Williams is not sure how the accelerated classes will be handled within each teaching team, he said, “be we are committed to offering accelerated classes in all of our cores.”

Space at the school will be tight in September. Enrollment projections for next year are 270 students in both sixth and seventh grades. Current seventh-graders, whether they live in Area E or not, are grandfathered in, so the eighth-grade population is projected at 370. Murray’s current population is 770 students.

Murray will hold a showcase on Feb. 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. for prospective students and their parents. That showcase comes one week before the Feb. 15 deadline for applications to the school district’s Placement Center.

To find out more about visiting Murray, call 651-651-293-8740. To find out more about enrollment options in St. Paul Public Schools, visit the 2013 Parent Information Fair on Saturday, Jan. 12, from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., at St. Paul RiverCentre, 175 W. Kellogg Blvd.

Families also can get one-on-one help from the St. Paul Public Schools Student Placement Center staff regarding the school choice process and how to complete an application. Call 651-632-3760 for more information.