Timeline for Amherst’s sixth grade move up in the air 

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 01-02-2024 10:35 AM

AMHERST — Beginning in either fall 2025 or fall 2026, sixth graders at Amherst’s three elementary schools will be relocating to the Amherst Regional Middle School.

But even after extensive planning was previously completed for a move that was supposed to have begun this past fall, the exact process for getting these students into the regional building remains uncertain. The future move is necessitated by construction of the new 575-student elementary school for grades K-5, to be opened at the Fort River School site on South East Street in fall 2026.

“One of the questions that we can come to, and we’ll probably start working on right away, is whether or not we can modify the regional agreement and have sixth grade be part of the regional agreement,” Slaughter told the Amherst School Committee on Dec. 19.

That regional agreement between Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury and Leverett allows students in grades 7-12 to be educated at the middle school, high school and Summit Academy. The elementary schools in the four towns are not regionalized.

In February, the committee voted to delay the anticipated September 2023 creation of the 6th Grade Academy and to mandate that a decision on when sixth-grade classes do move to be made by November 2024. At the time the new school opens, both Wildwood School and Fort River School will close, with Crocker Farm School remaining open.

Slaughter wrote a memo to the committee that he is ready to resume discussions about the sixth-grade move and reengage with employees.

“In the next few months I will be working with staff to revisit these topics and present the committee with options as to when and how best to move the sixth grade to the middle school,” Slaughter wrote.

The main questions are likely to center around the regional agreement, though other issues are not resolved, such as whether there would be separate bathrooms available to sixth graders from those used by seventh and eighth graders. In addition, if the sixth grade has its own space in the building, it may need its own administration and staff.

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Slaughter and former superintendent Michael Morris have spoken to state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials about whether small-scale changes can be made to the agreement. Generally, Slaughter said. if the agreement is opened up, then anything from “soup to nuts” can be reviewed.

During previous discussions, representatives from both Shutesbury and Leverett have indicated that they wouldn’t support having their sixth grade students educated in Amherst. There also have been explorations and votes in the past on full regionalization of the public schools in the four towns, which have failed.

While more likely that the move happens in fall 2026, sixth graders could be in the middle school in fall 2025.

“It may be necessary. There might be things that compel us in that direction,” Slaughter said.

Committee Chairman Irv Rhodes said there are only two budget cycles remaining to deal with the cost implications and to develop a timeline so the School Committee and community are informed.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.