(09/30/2009)
Braxton County is preparing to move its fifth and sixth grades back into elementary school.

"While they're getting ready to consolidate [in Kanawha County] our county's getting ready to de-consolidate," said Denver Drake, principal at Braxton County Middle School.

Braxton voters authorized borrowing money via a school bond sale in 2008 for additions and renovations at all six of its elementary schools.

It also called for renovations at Braxton County Middle and High Schools, creating space to move fifth and sixth grades into the elementary schools.

Braxton officials have made a commitment to keep community schools.

Braxton Superintendent Dennis Albright gave two reasons for moving the grades.

One is lagging achievement test scores, the second, dropping enrollment numbers at the county's elementary schools.

The principal said his school's WESTEST scores finally picked up and met the state Board of Education's Adequate Yearly Progress standards (AYP) but that hadn't happened in several years.

Eighty-one percent of Braxton County fifth-graders ranked "at or above mastery" on the mathematics portion of the WESTEST in 2008. But in 2007, the ranking was 74 percent, and in previous years, even worse.

Albright says he believes keeping students in elementary schools longer will "further develop" the fifth and sixth graders, making their transition into middle and high school much better.

Braxton County's pending change is also a way to bolster enrollment at its elementary schools. An influx of students is needed to keep the small schools afloat.

The Braxton superintendent said, since Braxton County has only one middle school and high school, the county's small communities are closely tied to the grade schools.

"For many of our communities, that's the only identity they have left here," he said.

The elementary school projects are funded by the 2008 school bond sale and the West Virginia School Building Authority, about $24 million.


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