Parents will have an opportunity to weigh in on a proposal to change the daily schedule for middle schools students, but the Frederick Board of Education will not hold a public hearing on the potentially controversial subject.
Instead, school officials are asking parents to email them with comments, questions or concerns about the change. Details of the proposed schedule will be posted on the school system website and emailed to parents, officials said.
The sweeping change would eliminate the current 90-minute block schedule and establish seven 47-minute class periods in the county’s 13 middle schools.
The seven-member school board took no action on the proposal on Wednesday and is expected to make a decision in January.
But school board member Donna Crook was disappointed that the board would not give parents a chance to comment on the proposal at a public hearing.
“I feel the decision has already been made,” she said.
Crook said the school board had not given the public enough warning or information about the proposed change.
“I think this needs a public hearing,” she said. “This is a huge piece that is going to impact a lot of our students.”
Speaking on behalf of the Frederick County PTA Council, M.C. Keegan-Ayer also expressed a similar concern.
“This proposal could not come at a worst time for parents,” she told the school board at the meeting.
“There is a lot in this report for parents to study,” she said. “This is going to be a huge change for middle school parents to absorb.”
Keegan-Ayer, who is the second vice president for the PTA council, said the group was concerned because the schedule change proposal came without warning for parents.
The group that developed the report over the past four months consisted only of educators and no parents, she said.
“We are concerned that it appears that the family education piece has been missing,” Keegan-Ayer said. “Parents should not be an afterthought. They are important stakeholders in this process.”
The board has until January to approve the proposal so that school officials can start planning for the change and drafting new schedules, county Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban said.
“We have a month to gather feedback,” Alban said. “We will work with parents in the spring to prepare them for the change.”
Alban said educators spent months developing the proposal and came up with the best way to help prepare county students for the state’s new standardized tests, which will replace the existing Maryland School Assessments in the 2014-15 school year.
Maryland schools will pilot the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments in 2013-14 but schools will not be held accountable for their students’ progress for the first year.
That will be the perfect time to implement a change in the middle school schedule, Alban said as she urged the board to move forward with the proposal.
“If people say to us, ‘Please, don’t change it,’ that will not be in the best interest of our students,” Alban said.
“To falter now means we are losing a very critical year,” she said. “We took the time, we did this thoughtfully, and we did it well.”
How it will work
Under the proposed schedule, county middle schoolers will not have to alternate schedules every day as they do now and will be able to take shorter classes in all core subjects, including English language arts, math, social studies and science every day.
The seven-period schedule also includes time for daily physical education classes, an exploratory subject, an elective and a 30-minute period for extended learning.
While the new schedule may reduce the time that students have now in math and English language arts, it would increase the time that students spend on social studies and science.
Students now take either math or science each semester, and the new schedule would make it possible for them to take both subjects every day throughout the year, said Thomas Saunders, instructional director for middle schools.
The proposed seven-period schedule would also give more flexibility for grouping students based on performance, including time for extended learning and remediation, and give teachers time to analyze student performance data, Saunders said.
The new schedule also will eliminate the need for the current A- and B-day format, which requires students to take physical education and visual arts every other day.
“It allows for various solutions for students who have different needs,” Saunders told the board.
While school board members took no vote on the proposal, many of them were supportive of the initiative.
Outgoing school board President Angie Fish, whose term on the board expires in December, said the proposed schedule seems like a step in the right direction.
School board member Brad Young also said he would prefer a schedule that does not include the A-day and B-day model.
And school board member Jean Smith agreed that the schedule change could have a positive effect on the system.
“This gives us more flexibility for schedules, more support for kids,” she said.
So far, school officials estimate that the change in schedule will cost about $283,000 to implement, which includes money for additional teachers, additional materials in social studies and science, the cost of outfitting additional science classrooms and additional professional development for teachers.
But that figure is just an estimate, and officials will know in January how many new staff members they will need to execute the change, Alban said.
Middle school reform
Alban reminded the board at the meeting that when she was hired in 2011, part of her charge was to repair the county’s existing middle school program.
Frederick County Public Schools have been looking for a way to reform middle schools since 2006, when the school system put together a task force of 125 teachers, administrators, parents, community leaders and school principals to complete a comprehensive review of all aspects of middle school operations.
But when the task force finally made its recommendations, the school system was in a tough financial spot and could only put in place recommendations that required no funding.
In 2008, the system carved out time for enrichment each day and put all of its middle schools on a uniform two-day rotating schedule of 90-minute periods, allowing all students to have at least 45 minutes of math and language arts instruction each day.
The proposed schedule change now builds upon the recommendations of the middle school task force, Alban told the board.
Developed about a decade ago, the current 90-minute schedule gives students additional time to prepare in math and reading — the subjects that are tested on the Maryland School Assessments.
But it also is restrictive, failing to allow enough flexility for students who need extra help, officials said Wednesday.
The existing schedule also is not aligned with the Common Core State Standards, an initiative adopted by 48 states that aims to ensure that students nationwide meet the same rigorous educational objectives.
In 2010, Maryland became one of the first states to adopt the common core, and educators statewide have been working since then to develop a curriculum based on the standards.
Frederick County is currently in the second phase of its transition, which will be completed in 2013-14.
In preparation for that change, Alban in September charged a committee of school principals and curriculum leaders to find a schedule alternative that better fits the school system’s changing needs.
“It took this group a lot of time, a lot of research to do this,” Alban said Wednesday, asking board members if they would be willing to endorse the proposal.