Middle school changes proposed

District officials are submitting a package of proposals to the William Floyd Board of Education for inclusion in the 2019-2020 budget, which would make changes to the middle schools, including reinstating a nine-period school day.

Officials cited the massive budget cuts due to the Great Recession, which cut over 100 positions, decimated the fine arts department, and cut the Floyd budget by $20 million, with the reductions that were forced a decade ago. The district has slowly been restoring much of the damage and reinstating programs, and has developed a new three-year plan to improve education at William Paca and William Floyd middle schools.

“That was probably one of the darkest times that I’ve seen in my 16 years at William Floyd,” said superintendent Kevin Coster.

In restoring what was lost during the severe cuts, Coster said the district looked at things in a new way, one that was more sustainable for the future and provided a better foundation. The last push for the administrators is the nine-period day. The original plan was to have nine 43-minute periods with after-school homework help in the core subjects, but after feedback from the community, that plan has changed and officials have settled on a new proposal. There would be nine 40-minute periods with a 25-30 minute extra help period at the end of the day. One of the periods would be a dedicated lunch period, where officials say it is important for students to have a break from a long day. Transportation would be provided after the extra-help period.

According to the district, the data from “high-functioning” middle schools show that the nine-period day has produced better results. The current system only allows the minimum amount of time for student-teacher instruction, and district officials want to increase that. The proposal would add 15 minutes of instruction to the school day, and the extra help period would be mandatory for teachers.

As well as adding time to the school day for middle schools, the district would work in new programs and courses for students. In the 2020-2021 school year, officials hope to add more academic-based electives, and the 2021-2022 school year would introduce student-selected electives. The rollout is both to assess what works and what doesn’t, and to recognize cost restrictions. Coster said the next two years would be dedicated to designing new curricula that capitalize on engagement with students and building individual skills.

“It’s a 13-chapter story and the middle school is a big part of that,” Coster said.

The changes proposed are the culmination of a district-wide research effort led by assistant superintendent for secondary education Kathleen Keane. She assembled a team of educators and administrators to look at what the best options were. She consulted with a national middle school consultant, as well as surveyed districts and schools across the country which are recognized as “high-functioning.” She also looked at schools with similar demographics, socioeconomic backgrounds, sizes, etc.

“We went looking at what structures make middle schools successful across the nation,” Keane said.

The final piece to the proposal is the addition of regular professional development for teachers. Support would be built into the teachers’ day and include weekly meetings with administrators, and content-based planning.

The proposal would be included in the budget for the 2019-2020 school year, which is still expected to come under the tax cap of 3.74 percent. The next meeting of the board of education is March 12 at 7:30 p.m. at William Floyd High School.

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