Middle schools. Are Hillsborough's in trouble?
Between September 2014 and September 2015, the Hillsborough County Public Schools showed a net loss of 1,200 students in the district-run middle schools.
Where did those kids go in a year that otherwise showed growth?
Some skipped ahead to high school, thanks to a summer catch-up program for over-aged students.
But others fled for private schools, charter schools and home schooling.
"You're going to have to do something different, folks," School Board member Carol Kurdell said at Tuesday's board meeting, challenging senior staff to do something about what is now being described as something of an exodus.
Some of the district's middle schools, especially those in the inner city, are nearly half empty. When questioned specifically about Monroe Middle School, whose population dropped to 400 after some students had the option of attending Tinker K-8 at MacDill Air Force Base, facilites chief Chris Farkas said district leaders want to introduce "attractors" that will lure students back.
Members Cindy Stuart and Melissa Snively, who both have children in middle school, said they know intuitively what some of the problems are. "Sixth grade is very difficult for kids," Stuart said.
Beyond the abrupt transition, there is considerable disparity in the quality of middle schools. Some are "knocking it out of the park," Stuart said. And when parents can't get their children into the better middle schools, they look for alternatives.
Adding to the other hurdles is the transportation system, which makes it necessary for middle schools to start their days at 9 a.m., after the buses make their runs to elementary and high schools.
The board agreed to hold a workshop to discuss middle schools further, using data that a district task force is already collecting.