The Central Bucks School District is preparing to implement some of the most far-reaching changes to its school framework in the last 25 years, according to Superintendent Dr. Abe Lucabaugh. He presented three of the largest initiatives to an audience in April who cheered the changes that are scheduled to start in the 2025–26 school year.
The systemic modifications include implementing full-day kindergarten, grade level realignment, and maintaining all current schools.
Grade-level realignment is central to the systemic framework changes.
“I am incredibly excited about moving ninth grade to the high school. Our students will have better access to courses, sports, and activities,” Lucabaugh explained. “We are moving from a sliding board to a springboard to prepare our students for their post-graduate life, whatever that may be.”
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Currently, the district schools are set up as kindergarten through sixth grade for the elementary schools, seventh through ninth grade for the middle schools, and tenth through twelfth as the high schools.
The new grade level realignment will change to kindergarten to fifth at the elementary schools, sixth to eighth for the middle schools, and ninth through twelfth for the high school.
According to Lucabaugh, the majority of districts across the state utilize the proposed model. He anticipates that initially sixth and ninth graders will receive the most benefits due to more age-appropriate courses and social interactions. He believes over time, however, that all students will gain both academically and socially as a result of the changes.
The second initiative to keep all schools open was cheered and applauded by the audience.
Prior to Covid, the topic of closing schools drew out the largest crowds to school board meetings. Central Bucks had previously employed an outside consultant to conduct an efficiency and demographic study, and the consultant recommended closing one of the district’s 23 schools. The superintendent decided instead to keep the school open in order to support changes in student demographics.
Central Bucks is experiencing a large influx of multi-language students for whom English is a second language. In 2015, the district was serving approximately 140 multi-language students, and currently there are around 700 students. Lucabaugh reported that families are coming from Central America, Ukraine, Russia, and several East European countries.
“It is very exciting and our honor to serve these children and their families,” Lucabaugh said about the Central Bucks demographic shift. “We embrace the challenge to adapt our systems to provide our multi-language learners with not only the highest quality education but to assist their families in the cultural immigration process.”
With the additional services needed to support the multi-language students and the addition of the third initiative, full-day kindergarten, the superintendent and his team determined it was not necessary to close the school.
Lucabaugh said the addition of full-day kindergarten “will provide a greater level of readiness for students entering first grade.”
We expect to see a huge impact for our graduates and are thrilled for what this means for our students, families, teachers, and community.
The goal is to have every student reading by third grade, and the superintendent believes full-day kindergarten will support that goal. In the presentation, he stated that the program will focus on academic growth, social development, and quality programming to ensure that students are ready for first grade. “Parents are excited about the opportunity for full-day kindergarten.”
When asked if the changes require board approval, Lucabaugh responded, “no formal board action is required to implement the changes; however, I have been keeping the board informed about our plans and the process.” The superintendent stated that the district Director of Operations is currently working on an anticipated cost report that will be discussed at the Board Finance committee.
According to Lucabaugh, there has not been any pushback from teachers, students, or parents. While some are apprehensive about the changes, most understand that they make sense instructionally. The superintendent has been meeting with students in small focus groups over the year, and some of the elementary students were initially nervous about the change. However, by mid-year, the focus groups revealed that students are very excited about the changes to come.
Teachers will also be impacted by the changes, which is why they won’t be implemented until the 2025–2026 school year. Moving both sixth and ninth grades up will cause some changes in required teacher certifications and adapting to different schedules. For example, the middle school courses run for 47 minutes daily, while the high school classes are on a block schedule for 90 minutes every other day. “Teachers will need training, and the curriculum committee will need to rewrite a number of courses.”
Overall, Lucabaugh is excited about increasing age-appropriate opportunities and access for the ninth and sixth grade students, in addition to full-day kindergarten. “We believe that all of our students will be far more prepared as a result of these changes. We expect to see a huge impact for our graduates and are thrilled for what this means for our students, families, teachers, and community.”
Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in Education, and has dedicated her career advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty.