Principal's Corner

Principal’s Corner

A Growing Middle School

It seems hard to believe that when I began at Lawrence in 2008, we had only two sections each in seventh and eighth grades.   We slowly grew over the next two years and then have held steady at a total of 9 sections in grades 6-8 (3 sections per grade) for the past five years.   Over this time period, we have established a strong and cohesive middle school program.

Next year, our first four-section grade will move into sixth grade.  The middle school team, Laura Horst and I have begun to talk about changes this will require in our program.  At last week’s Principal’s Forum, I outlined some of our preliminary thinking.  I will summarize this information below.

Our Current Middle School Model

For the past five years, our middle school grades have been structured as follows:

  • Gr. 6 – 3 homerooms.  Each teacher teaches three sections of their Gr. 6 content area, one section in a Gr. 7 content area, and a Gr. 6 homeroom period that allows for intervention and extension in English and math.  (English teacher Peggy Avakian teaches 2 sections of Gr. 7 English in lieu of homeroom).
  • Gr. 7/8  – Teachers teach five sections in their content area (2 in Gr. 7 and 3 in Gr. 8).
  • Gr. 6-8 – All teachers in grades 6-8 lead Advisory three time per week.  Students also have Conservatory twice a week, which allows for two common team meeting times for Gr. 6-8 teachers.

A Growing Number of Sections

Our current model will no longer work as we grow. This chart shows our anticipated growth over the next five years.

2015-16

(10 sections)

4 x Gr. 6

3 x Gr. 7

3 x Gr. 8

 

2016-17

(10 sections)

3 x Gr. 6

4 x Gr. 7

3 x Gr. 8

2017-18

(11 sections)

4 x Gr. 6

3 x Gr. 7

4 x Gr. 8

2018-19

(11 sections)

4 x Gr. 6

4 x Gr. 7

3 x Gr. 8

2019-20

(12 sections)

4 x Gr. 6

4 x Gr. 7

4 x Gr. 8

Planning Assumptions

In setting about to make a decision about how to restructure, we agreed to the following assumptions:

1. Develop a plan that will work for 10 sections over the next two years. (Worry about 2017-18 and beyond later.

2. To the extent possible, maximize the continuation of key elements of our cohesive middle school.

  • Gr. 6 as transitional year with extra homeroom period
  • Advisory in Gr. 6-8
  • In Gr. 7, students have at least one teacher who knew them in sixth grade.
  • Teacher collaboration & shared content area expertise.

5. Minimize the use of hard-to-fill itinerant positions

6. Consider possible opportunities for creative scheduling (e.g. longer blocks 4 times per week).

A Two-Year Plan

2015-16

  • Gr. 6 – 4 homerooms (Each teacher teaches 4 sections of Gr. 6 Content + 1 section of HR)
  • Gr. 7 – Increase staffing .4 FTE English & .2 FTE in Math, Science, and Social Studies.  (Increase English teacher Alison Closter to 1.0 and hire .4 English/SS and .4 Math/Science).

2016-17

  • Gr. 6 – Return to 3 homerooms with each teacher teaching one section of Gr. 7 content.
  • Gr. 7 – Continue additional .2 FTE in each content area.

Implications

As we discussed options, a consensus formed around the importance of one key element of our middle school model:  keeping the sixth grade a transitional year by providing the extra homeroom period.  Teachers felt strongly that this period gave students a solid foothold and allowed them to form a stronger relationship with one teacher.   Other elements this plan will enable us to maintain are our Advisory and conservatory programs in grades 6-8, as well as two common team meetings per week.

What are the trade-offs?   For one year only, we will lose the advantage of students having 1-2 teachers in seventh grade who knew them in sixth grade. Our sixth grade teachers have been terrific advocates for their students if they hit a rough patch in seventh grade. Our current sixth graders will have all teachers new to them in seventh grade  – and we will need to hire new part-time teachers to teach seventh grade. We will try to offset this loss, by including sixth grade teachers in first quarter team meetings that review student performance on interim progress reports and report cards.   Teachers lose the opportunity to collaborate with a colleague in planning seventh grade curriculum – something they have enjoyed and found beneficial.

Still to Come

We are still discussing the possible benefits of having classes meet only four times a week for longer blocks of time.   Watch this space for future updates.  Each May, we provide an informational meeting for parents of fifth graders moving to sixth grade.

Change brings new challenges – and new opportunities.  As we plan for change, it is important to hold onto the essential elements of our vision for a cohesive middle school.  As I listened to our teachers discuss various options for addressing our growing enrollment, I was quite pleased to hear their focus stay squarely on what is best for our students.  That says it all.

Rick Rogers
rick_rogers@brookline.k12.ma.us

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