Category Archives: School Board News

Sixth Graders on the Field?

by Cindy McMahon, Reynolds District Representative, Buncombe County School Board

What could be more complicated than middle school? Puberty hits like an oncoming train. Physical changes. Emotional changes. Social changes. Everybody developing and learning at their own rates, and girls often towering over the boys. In my estimation, middle school teachers deserve a special medal. As do the kids.

At our October work session, the Board of Education learned about a new potential twist for middle schools: the state Board of Education has opened the door for sixth graders to participate in all athletics except football, leaving it up to each school district to decide whether or not to allow it. What are the opportunities and barriers for our school system? And how should we proceed? These were the topics of this October work session.

If Buncombe County Schools had a straight elementary-middle-high school structure, the decision would be much easier. But we have four intermediary schools, which complicates the picture immensely. As BCS Athletic Director David Ball explained in our session, even this structure is likely workable for most of our intermediary school sixth graders. For three of our intermediary schools, it is a short walk or bus ride from the intermediary to its sister middle school.

In our Reynolds district, the situation becomes more complex.

At Reynolds Middle, the smallest middle school in the county, offering sixth graders the opportunity to compete would actually benefit the school, because ACRMS often faces the challenge of having enough kids to field a team. Dr. Jamie Johnson, principal, also said, “Allowing sixth grade students to be involved would provide structured access to improve skills, access to a qualified coach, and allow them to participate on a competitive team. The year of earlier access could help level the playing field for many of our disadvantaged students.”

And then there’s Cane Creek. Unlike any other school in the County system, Cane Creek straddles two of our districts. Kids from Fairview Elementary arrive at CCMS in sixth grade, and then go on from Cane Creek to Reynolds High School. Students from Avery’s Creek, Estes, and Glen Arden Elementary schools, however, attend Koontz Intermediate School for fifth and sixth grade. Then the Glen Arden alumni go on to Cane Creek for seventh and eighth, while the Estes and Avery’s Creek alumni go to Valley Springs Middle. All of these Roberson District students then go on to TC Roberson for high school.

If we welcome sixth graders to participate in athletics, it would mean all sixth graders across the county would be eligible to try out, whether they attend a middle school or an intermediate school. If the intermediary sixth graders join teams at the middle school they’ll attend as seventh graders, that means that some Koontz sixth graders will compete for Cane Creek (nearly eight miles away), and others will compete for Valley Springs. Cane Creek coaches and staff would be responsible for sixth graders who don’t attend the school, and the transportation costs alone could be nearly $5,000 per year.

Cane Creek principal Karen Barnhill recognizes the complexity and is cautiously optimistic: “There are numerous logistics that we would have to work out for our school, but we are committed to doing so in the event they are allowed to participate. If they are not allowed to participate, CCMS will continue to provide activities for the sixth grade students in an effort to make them feel part of the middle school setting.”

In addition to these questions of budget, transportation, student supervision and fairness across our system, we also need to plan carefully so that coaches and other school personnel have the training they need if we are to make this significant change. Sixth and eighth graders would be competing on the same teams; we don’t have the resources to cwreate sixth-grade-only teams. If we make this change, we need to be fully ready so that all our students will be safe.

What are the next steps? The Board agreed, informally, that our staff should move ahead to explore solutions to the challenges that we already know about, as well as others that might arise. Our current plan is to vote on next steps in January, with a potential for sixth graders to participate in the spring 2017 athletic season. But if we’re not fully ready, we’ll defer the decision. Again, the top priority is student safety.

Questions for Cindy? Please email