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Johnson City schools looking to convert Indian Trail, Liberty Bell for 5-8th graders

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Johnson City schools wants your input on moving to a two-middle school system.

Right now, 5th and 6th graders attend Indian Trail. 7th and 8th graders are at Liberty Bell. Under the proposed plan, Indian Trail and Liberty Bell would become middle schools for all four grades, 5-8.

Students would be divided based on where they live. Elementary students from Fairmount, Lake Ridge and Mountain View would go to Indian Trail. Students from Cherokee, North Side, South Side, Town Acres and Woodland would go to Liberty Bell.

School superintendent Steve Barnett said data shows students do better academically when they stay at one school longer.

"Teachers and staff members would get to know the students better, get to know what you like, what you don't like, get to know the parents," he said.

Barnett said there are other benefits to keeping students under the same roof for four years. Smaller class sizes: each grade would be cut in half from 600 students to 300. More opportunities: Two schools means double of any extra-curricular activity.

"To be in band, get to be in orchestra or in chorus, learn a foreign language, do those things and decide what they like," Barnett explained.

It's a great idea to parents like Laura Linn who has two boys, who love playing sports.

"If they're not one of the best 13 kids in the city, they will not be able to play at the middle school level," Linn said.

But not all parents are on board.

"I don't see the benefit of having two schools," Debbie Shelton said. She said it's better for kids to meet each other when they're younger, rather than be separated until high school.

"I just don't think it's going to work having two schools going back to one," Shelton said. "That's going to be a big adjustment."

But Barnett believes this route opens more doors that would otherwise, be left untouched.

"That's the whole reason we could pursue and study two middle schools," he said. "We want to provide opportunities for students."

This is in the beginning stages. Barnett said they're still looking at things like transportation and cost. News 5 asked about an estimate. Barnett said both schools were originally built to be middle schools, so he expects the costs would be low.

The plan also needs approval from the school board and the city commission, so the earliest this could happen is 2020.

There are several more meetings parents can attend to give their input. You can visit the Johnson City school's website to view project details and take a survey for the school system: http://bit.ly/2ytXoBd

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