Despite opposition from Alta, Wyoming families, the Teton School District 1 Board of Trustees voted on May 8 to eliminate sixth grade from Alta School.
Alta fifth graders have the unique opportunity each year to pick from several sixth grade options; they can stay at Alta, go to Jackson Hole Middle School, go to private middle school in Jackson, or attend Teton Middle School in Driggs, which is a common choice. TSD1 pays TSD401 around $12,500 per Wyoming student enrolled in Idaho.
There are eight rising sixth graders now enrolled at Alta. Prior to the reconfiguration decision, five of them had informed Principal Jenna Beck that they would attend TMS in the fall, while two would attend Alta for their final year. One was undecided.
On April 26, parents of Alta students received a letter informing them that the decision to reconfigure Alta School would be on the agenda of the May 8 meeting. The decision was based on a recommendation from Superintendent Gillian Chapman. Alta has been the only Teton County, Wyoming elementary school to offer grades K-6; Colter, Kelly, Munger, Moran, Wilson, and Jackson Elementary are all K-5.
The recommendation to reconfigure the school was based on declining enrollment trends and because the curriculum and elective opportunities for Alta sixth graders were not equivalent to the offerings for sixth graders at JHMS. With small class sizes and fluctuating enrollment, the district is also proposing reducing the size of the teaching staff from four core teachers to three.
On May 1 the superintendent and several school board members came to Alta to have a meeting with parents, at which many Alta residents voiced their support for maintaining sixth grade and the current staffing levels. They also requested that the district take more time to make the decision.
At the May 8 meeting parents and students also spoke up in emotional support of sixth grade. The school board members told the attendees they appreciated their passion and pride in Alta School, but that the board had a responsibility to look at the district as a whole. The decision passed 6-1, with only Betsy Carlin voting in opposition.
Sixth graders at Alta have shared a classroom and teacher with fifth graders, but Beck said there are certain traditions and leadership roles the rising sixth graders will not have the chance to enjoy at Alta. She added that her and the teachers’ main focus as the school year winds down is to support the school’s graduating fifth graders, some of whom will now go to private school in Jackson and the rest of whom will attend TMS.
Beck said she is still working with the Alta teachers and other school district staff to determine how the school will be reconfigured. If Alta does lose one teacher, that person would be reassigned elsewhere in the district.
“We don’t have all the details yet,” Beck said. “But we’re pretty optimistic. When one door closes another opens.”