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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Turner Elementary, Bartels Middle to merge

TAMPA – The older students at Turner Elementary School are used to attending their classes at neighboring Bartels Middle School.

Last school year, the crowded New Tampa elementary school moved its fourth-grade classes next door to the middle school, where there was more than enough space. This school year, fifth-graders moved over to Bartels.

And in the fall, the schools – located on Imperial Oak Boulevard – will take their partnership even further by merging to become one school serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Earlier this month, a letter went home to parents from Turner Principal Rhonda McMahon about the change.

McMahon wrote that the merger grew out of discussions with parents and community members.

A benefit of shifting to the K-8 model is that students will be able to make a seamless transition from elementary to middle school, she said.

“Given the population growth at Turner Elementary and our success with the K-8 configuration at other Hillsborough County schools, this is a logical and educationally sound next step to serve the community,” McMahon wrote. “This solution will also make best use of the two facilities.”

Bartels, given a B grade by the Florida Department of Education, currently serves 850 students and Turner, an A school, serves 1,133, according to February enrollment figures.

Last month, to accommodate growth in the New Tampa area, the school board approved new attendance boundaries for Bartels. About 290 students who live in the West Meadows community and were previously zoned to attend the school are now assigned to Liberty Middle School. An additional 20 students, who live near 131st Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard were reassigned to Benito Middle School.

Some of the details of how the K-8 will operate still have to be ironed out, such as what the bell schedules for the new school will be.

“There will be one set of rules for both campuses,” said Cathy Valdes, deputy superintendent for the district. “One set of expectations for teachers, one set of expectations for students.”

The district is currently advertising for the new school's principal. McMahon and Bartels Principal Tim Binder both have the opportunity to apply.

Teachers at the two schools will keep their jobs.

“It's a smart decision when you think about utilizing space,” Binder said. “I've heard nothing but positive comments. The little ones love being part of a middle-school campus.”

But parent Sharon Hayes, whose seventh-grade son attends Bartels, doesn't see the merger as a good idea.

“There's too much of an age difference,” Hayes said. “Would you want your kindergartener going to school with an eighth-grader? I can't see this as a good thing.”

Hayes said she also worries about only having one principal to lead the school.

“I'm curious to see how this is going to turn out,” she said.

There are 145 K-8 public schools in Florida and Turner-Bartels school will be Hillsborough's third K-8. The other two are Roland Park K-8 Magnet School for International Studies and the Rampello Downtown Partnership School.

Valdes said the district could consider merging more schools under the same model.

“It's a unique opportunity if there's a curriculum that's advantageous to both campuses,” she said.

Bartels started a science, technology, engineering and math lab this school year, where students attend classes in which they learn computer coding and work on innovative projects like building robots out of Legos.

The fourth- and fifth-graders who already go to school there take classes in the lab, and once the school merges, all of the elementary grades will too, all the way down to prekindergarten.

“We're infusing STEM principles into lessons,” Binder said.

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Twitter: @ErinKTBO

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