Iowa City is transitioning from junior highs to middle schools in 2024

Northwest Junior High in Coralville will have an estimated 1,137 students when it becomes a middle school in 2024, with sixth graders, seventh and eighth graders joining the school. (Google Street View image)

Lucas Ptacek, executive director of Iowa City’s secondary schools

IOWA CITY — Sixth graders of Iowa City’s new model of middle school have an opportunity to explore their career interests through “exposure sessions.”

The district will transition from a junior high to a middle school model by fall 2024, moving sixth graders to schools with seventh and eighth graders.

The Iowa City School Board approved a plan to remove sixth graders from elementary schools in February.

$34 million is needed to expand the district’s three junior highs to accommodate 300 to 400 sixth graders in each building. The costs are covered by pre-approved sales and property taxes.

career exploration

Middle school is a critical time for students to begin exploring career paths and developing related skills, Lucas Ptacek, executive director of Iowa City’s secondary schools, told the Iowa City School Board on Tuesday.

Career development at this age helps students identify their strengths and interests, adds relevance to their academic teaching, and eases the transition to high school, he said.

At its core, to ease the transition from fifth to sixth grade, sixth graders will have three teachers for English, math, science and social studies, he said. In addition, they complete six 30-day exposure units related to vocational and technical education, arts and health.

“We know we want to provide a wide range of opportunities for students after high school, whether it’s in college or in the trades,” Ptacek said. “We have a responsibility to provide the information and skills needed to ensure these students thrive beyond their experience here in Iowa City schools.”

The exposure units are still under development.

From elementary school through middle school to high school, “students gradually increase the number of adults they interact with throughout the day,” Ptacek said. Seventh and eighth graders will change teachers for more subjects than sixth graders, he said.

“We want to create as seamless a transition as possible between middle and high school,” said Ptacek. “The idea behind exposure units is that they have the opportunity to discover something. When a student starts creating their schedule in the future, they can remember what they really enjoyed.”

The plan

The estimated enrollment projections at each junior high school with the addition of sixth graders are:

  • 856 in North Central, 180 W. Forevergreen Rd., North Liberty
  • 1.137 Northwest, 1507 Eighth St., Coralville
  • 1.166 in South East, 2501 Bradford Dr., Iowa City

This plan requires some teachers to move from elementary school to middle school as well. Ptacek said district administrators want to make sure teachers are “well informed” about what the transition will look like and that they are interested.

The majority of sixth grade teachers in Iowa City are licensed to teach K-6, Ptacek said. Although they can teach any subject, Ptacek said he wants to make sure they teach subjects they are passionate about.

For sixth-grade teachers who aren’t interested in moving to middle school, they will have opportunities in elementary schools, Ptacek said.

Board of Directors reaction

School board member Jayne Finch said she watched her own children go from the “protected, controlled environment” in elementary school to junior high, where they “weren’t ready for all that responsibility and independence.”

“I’m really looking forward to this transition year,” Finch said during Tuesday’s board meeting.

Jayne Finch, Iowa City School Board

School board member Maka Pilcher Hayek said the transition to a middle school model where students spend three years will make the experience “more meaningful.” Spending only two years in junior high makes it difficult for students to feel connected to the school, she said.

Maka Pilcher Hayek, Iowa City School Board Member

“One hope for me with this system is that it will get kids, teachers, staff and parents more involved with the middle school experience rather than two transition years,” Pilcher Hayek said.

School board member Lisa Williams said one of her children will experience the middle school model in the first grade of sixth graders in the fall of 2024.

“I’m personally committed to making sure this is great,” Williams said.

Lisa Williams, member of the Iowa City School Board

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