Middle Schools To Get Longer Days, Less Spanish, More Intervention & Enrichment

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SOMS Principal Joseph Uglialoro and MMS Principal Jerrill Adams

SOMS Principal Joseph Uglialoro and MMS Principal Jerrill Adams


South Orange and Maplewood middle school students will be looking at longer days starting next year — in order to accommodate more time for elective subjects and a new period in 6th and 7th grades for enrichment and intervention time with teachers.

However, Spanish instruction will be cut in half in 7th grade.

Dismissal will now be at 3:05 p.m. instead of 2:45 p.m., Spanish will no longer be an 180-day core subject in 7th grade, and a new enrichment and intervention period called “W.I.N.” will be added for 6th and 7th graders.

South Orange Middle School Principal Joseph Uglialoro and Maplewood Middle School Principal Jerrill Adams presented the new proposed schedule (see below) for the 2015-16 school year at the April 27 Board of Education meeting.

Uglialoro explained, “We want the way we use time and the current way we use staffing to reflect our priorities … primarily with the way we deliver intervention and enrichment to our students in 6th and 7th grade.”

He said that, next year, all classes in the 8-period day will be 50 minutes long. This varies from the schedule of recent years which included periods of 40-minute length for elective subjects and physical education.

A major new addition is a period to be added in 6th and 7th grade called the W.I.N. — or “Whatever I Need” — period.

Another major change is that 7th grade will have three teaching teams in 2015-16 as compared to two teams this year in order to deal with the enrollment “bubble” that is entering that grade next year.

Regarding W.I.N., Uglialoro explained, “In 6th grade, the repurposing of the rotation period into the W.I.N. period is going to allow us to accomplish that goal of enhancing the delivery of intervention and enrichment opportunities. In 7th grade, it’s the creation of that period … that will allow us to accomplish that goal.” The W.I.N. period will be introduced to 8th grade in the 2016-17 school year.

Uglialoro said that each student will have two periods for creative arts and physical education (PE) to “develop” and “explore what their passions are.” He assured the Board that the district will be meeting the state requirement for minutes in PE under the new schedule.

However, Uglialoro noted there were “givebacks” to the programs in that world languages in the form of Spanish instruction would be “truncated” from 180 days in 7th grade to 90 days in 7th grade (Spanish will be taught every day but only for one semester). “The result will still be that the majority of students will be ready for Spanish 2 in 9th grade,” said Uglialoro, who added, “given the current levels of staffing we had to reduce the number of minutes in Spanish.”

Uglialoro also said that by moving to two 50-minute periods, the schools are increasing the amount of time for musicians and singers in band, orchestra and chorus, and that directors of ensembles will now have to run small group lessons outside of larger ensembles. He said that the longer periods also allow staff more time for planning, prep time and team meetings.

Adams explained that the W.I.N. period would provide opportunities for students above, at and below grade level. In the beginning of 6th grade, the principals explained that W.I.N. could be used to teach students organizational skills and orient them to middle school life while teachers get to know them and assess their skill levels.

Uglialoro said that interventions through W.I.N. would be more effective since they would be administered by the teachers who know and work with students on a daily baisis: “Those interventions are best delivered by teachers with whom the students are familiar … allows teachers on the team to deliver interventions during the day in a manner that is flexible … so that students aren’t locked into those interventions for a year.”

Board member Johanna Wright asked, “Where is the conference period for 6th graders who use that to get extra help after school?”

Adams replied, “That’s a really good question.” Adams said that the No. 1 question he gets from parents is, “Why didn’t my child stay for the conference period?” He said that with W.I.N., “they are not bolting for the door at end of day. We have them for that period.” He added that, beyond W.I.N., there will continue to be an additional 10 minutes during the school day to check in with teachers.

Wright also wondered if the district was “dropping” Project Ahead.

(From the district policy document: Project Ahead: At the end of grades 5, 6, and 7, all students are screened for placement in Project Ahead Mathematics and/or Language Arts in grades 6, 7 and 8. The following criteria are used for assessing students in order to identify them for placement in the Project Ahead Program in grades 6, 7, and 8. At all grade levels, teacher recommendation and the use of multiple measures are part of the assessment process.)

Adams said that Project Ahead was not “getting us the results that we need” and would be replaced by Achieve 3000 and/or Read 180.

In a followup email, district spokeswoman Suzanne Turner explained, “The teachers who currently teach Project Ahead [will] become classroom teachers. This reallocation of staff time is part of how we are able to move to three teams in 7th grade in both schools, instead of the current two teams. The budget includes an additional 1.9 FTE’s [full-time employees] to complete the additional teams. Having three teams substantially brings down class size for all of 7th grade in both schools. It also allows us to deliver interventions more effectively, since the regular classroom teachers will be the ones providing necessary interventions, rather than having an off-team teacher providing intervention not directly connected to what is going on in the regular classroom.

Wright wondered whether the new schedule “will get us off the focus list for these schools.”

Adams said, “We hope this will get us off the focus list. All students … will have teachers in intervention who already know them and can provide intervention. For high achievers, teachers can push those students even higher.” Adams noted that staying the course with the current schedule was a much less likely way to get off the focus list.

Board member Elizabeth Baker said she saw “much good” in the changes but also had “some concerns.” She said that a key to success will be for parents “to really know about that period and make the school work for your child and how to instill those habits and the ability to seek out assistance for students.”

Board member Madhu Pai said she was “very excited” about the changes and that the presentation had answered a lot of her concerns.

Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad noted that the decision for Spanish was not budgetary and that the feedback from teachers was they preferred to see students each day not every other day. However, she said the Board wanted to monitor the change to Spanish in 7th grade closely. Board member Donna Smith expressed a concern that some students might have Spanish for the first half of 6th grade and then not again until the second half of 7th grade. Board member Jeff Bennett said that he disagreed with cutting down 7th grade Spanish because it put the district behind other similar school districts. He called the cut “very disappointing.”

Village Green will post a link to video of the meeting when it posts so that readers can see the full discussion.

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