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'Middle School Model' In a Positive Nutshell

District 109's new "Middle School Model" offers big changes for the 2013-2104 school year.

'Middle School Model' In a Positive Nutshell

As a parent with children in eighth, sixth and first grade I felt oddly knowledgeable about the experiences my daughters have had thus far in middle school.

So, as I walked into the "Middle School Model" meeting at Caruso Middle School Thursday night, I was ready for a fight. The rumors had been flying among the students and parents:

  • TAP (gifted) classes were going to be eliminated.
  • World language was changing to a CHAM
  • P class (only once a quarter) vs. a daily year round class.
  • Students would be with the same group of students for all classes.

All false.

Kudos to Principals Michael Shapiro (Shepard Middle School) and Brian Bullis (Caruso) as well as the teachers for addressing not only the primary concerns of the parent, but also for clearly identifying how this change began and how this evolution of change has taken shape.

In essence, this "Middle School Model" is a teacher-principal driven change. A group of teachers and the principals met twice a month for almost a year and a half to create what this structure will look like, what the teachers want vs. need, and the best way to go about making it happen successfully. 

The key words used dozens of times throughout the presentation were "collaboration," "team" and "interdisciplinary." The general gist of the "Middle School System" is this: each grade will be split into two core blocks. Within each block, there will be onr teacher each for science, social studies, language arts and math. Each core block class will last for 60 minutes daily.

By creating core blocks, the goals are:

  • Collaborate within core team daily.
  • Problem solve issues with students quicker.
  • Allow 60 minutes in each core subject. Currently students spend 40 minutes in their core classes except Language arts which currently runs 80 minutes.
  • Allow for more interdisciplinary thematic units across subjects to give students a stronger connection to the material.
  • Allow flexibility in scheduling.

As a parent, I wanted to get to the nitty gritty. So what were the details?

  • All TAP, Seminar, Accelerated, and Special Needs classes would remain.
  • Students would not be with the same students in all of their core block classes. They would mix from class to class.
  • Core block teams will change from year to year so students will not always be with the same students.

In addition to the Core classes, there will also be Encore classes. These classes will remain 40 minute periods and will mix both core teams of students within each grade together and include:

  • A daily world language class, including Accelerated Spanish if applicable.
  • A daily gym class.
  • A daily CHAMPS class which changes quarterly as it does currently (this includes Tech Apps, Music, Art, and Skills for Life).

Finally, there will still be a 30-minute lunch period and a short eight to 10 minute homeroom at the beginning of each day.

So what changes the most for current students? First, 21st Century Skills, which served primarily as a homeroom 40 minute class is going by the wayside. As a parent, I was never completely clear what this time was supposed to be used for, only that my kids typically do a big chunk of homework during that time most days.

No huge loss there. The second major change is Language Arts going from 80 minutes to 60. Again, not anything I, as a parent, view as a huge loss. At least one to two days a week, my daughter tells me, she reads for 40 of the 80 minutes. This is something my kids can and do at home.

What do I see as the biggest benefits of this system? First and foremost, 20 extra minutes in Math, Science and Social Studies. That is huge. Next, happier teachers. Teachers will be teaching fewer students, with longer classroom time.

They will be able to work together with their core team on issues daily versus weekly or monthly. They will all be teaching one subject in one grade—a major change for some teachers currently teaching in multiple grade levels in multiple disciplines. Happier teachers, will without a doubt, result in happier students. That is awesome.

The biggest challenges facing Shapiro and Bullis will, without a doubt, be balancing the core teams. I am not sure how they will go about this process, but I am certain they will try to keep the core teams as fair and balanced as possible.

"We will mix high ability, high personality, academic and social/emotional needs and learning styles," Shapiro said. This is a challenge that will certainly not be easy. 

This is a significant change for our District 109 middle schools. It is certainly not a perfect model, but it is one that makes sense. It is one benefitting our teachers as well as our students. It is one I look forward to for the 2013-2014 school year.

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