MADISON (WKOW) -- They're kids still young enough to enjoy the playground. Next school year, however, fifth graders at Madison's Leopold Elementary School would no longer attend class at the southside campus itself.
Madison Superintendent Daniel Nerad spoke to parents Monday night inside Leopold's cafeteria about a proposal to send future fifth graders to Cherokee and Wright middle schools. He called it a short-term option to stop overcrowding.
While a number of parents expressed concern over sending their kids to a middle school setting a year early, Nerad said it's already been done in different ways in other districts.
"Some communties have a 5-6 middle school, a 7-8 middle school, and so there isn't only one way you do it, but this would be a change for us, so we have to pay particular attention about doing it well," said Nerad.
He added, "A fifth grader can function if we pay appropriate attention to what the program design would look like."
School principal John Burkholder said capacity at the school is 720 students. Burkholder said current enrollment is about 690. Nerad said he is looking for a quick solution to lower enrollment to below 650.
The cafeteria was crammed with concerned parents over the plan. Jackie Cooper has two children at the school, including a third grader who would be bused to a middle school in two years. Her worries are over safety.
"Also the maturity level between a fifth grader and an eighth grader, language, behavior, socialization issues," said Cooper, who is also co-president of the school's Parent Faculty Organization.
"I don't think it's a great proposal," said Jess Lathrop. "I don't think there are any good proposals for dealing with overcrowding at Leopold."
Lathrop also has two children at the school. With one in first grade, she questions how many years this fifth grade option would last. "I think what we'd like to see is another building at another site and have this operate as a paired school," she said.
Voters in 2005 rejected the idea of a second elementary school on the same site. The parents and the new superintendent are well aware.
"I'm wondering how they're really going to get to a long-term solution," said Cooper.
That leaves students at Leopold in limbo while the adults make the choice between keeping some students in small classrooms without windows for a chance at another year on the playground out back.
Flyers also went out addressing concerns over low-income students ratios at the affected schools, after-school activity options, and transportation under the short-term plan. The school board will vote on the short-term option at its meeting November 3.
The district is conducting a study for longer term approaches to Leopold's overcrowding. That study will end in June 2009.