Topaz Tigers who love their school may soon be able to stay there two more years.


The Hesperia Unified School District school board is scheduled to vote on turning Topaz Preparatory Academy into a kindergarten through eighth grade "elemiddle" school.


The staff had originally planned on turning the school from a K-6 school into a K-8 this school year, as part of its transformation from Topaz Elementary School to a leadership-based "school of choice."


"It was actually a blessing in disguise" that it didn't happen, said Principal Karen Prestwood, "with [the 2009-2010 school year] larger class sizes and economic hardship in the community."


But this year, with the staff and students already comfortable with the curriculum based around Stephen Covey's The Leader in Me, a kid-friendly spin-off to the famous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, in which Covey says explains how his seven habits can improve education and lead to the raising of "great" kids, the school is ready to move forward with the K-8 plan.


"The deeper and deeper we got into the research we got" on K-8 schools," the more passionate we became," said Prestwood.


The model most benefits kids otherwise at risk of dropping out she said, by giving students additional stability during their middle school years. The benefits include higher attendance rates, fewer discipline problems (something Prestwood said the Leader in Me program has already helped curtail) and, later, higher high school and college graduation rates.


"It's really hard for a kid to fall through the cracks here."


Middle school students will also receive an additional focus on math -- which now includes algebra, which the state of California now tests 8th grade students in each year.


Each middle school grade will have a total of three classes per grade level, and students will stay with their class through different subjects throughout the day, making for an effectively even smaller group of students at each grade level.


"It's going to be a small, intimate feel," said Prestwood.


Beyond moving around which classes meet where, and putting in an additional gate for middle school students, the existing Topaz campus will be able to be used essentially as-is, she said.


"They'll have two more years of childhood and a stronger sense of self," said Prestwood. "That's a really good thing to offer a child."


If approved by the school board, Topaz would become a K-7 school in the 2010-2011 school year, followed by a full K-8 program in 2011-2012.


The next regular meeting of the HUSD school board will be held on March 8 at 6 p.m. in the HUSD Educational Support Center Annex, 15576 Main Street.


Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 760-956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star