A shifting focus in Middle Country schools

A shifting focus in Middle Country schools

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District wants more emphasis on science, math

The Middle Country school district is moving forward with plans to redesign science and math offerings in the middle schools to provide students with an enhanced education in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The three-year plan, which would begin in the 2014-15 school year, includes offering an additional math period every other day for seventh- and eighth-graders who are not taking living environment, and extended math offerings during the sixth-graders’ flex period.

“I think there will be a lot of support for it,” Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Francine McMahon said at a school board workshop on July 31. “There is more time for something we all feel is important.”

In order to make the change, band and orchestra will be offered every other day instead of daily, while health and home and careers classes, which are both required for middle school students, would be moved to sixth grade.

McMahon said the changes mark a major paradigm shift within the district, but it was important for class offerings like music to be maintained.

The change is suggested “not to destroy the music program, but yet to be able to maintain a quality program and at the same time increase the offerings that our youngsters would have in other areas so we end up with well-rounded students that perform well,” McMahon said.

According to McMahon, the program’s first year is projected to cost $598,000, as about nine additional staff members are needed, but the following school year, the district would save $104,000, as health classes will no longer be offered to seventh-graders as they would have already satisfied their health requirements.

By 2016-17 school year, McMahon said the district would be able to offer a science research lab, as declining enrollment at the elementary school-level would offset associated costs. Staff needed for the lab class would relocate to the middle school from the elementary school.

“We now have the ability because of the way we have reallocated and watched our funds to have a science research lab to be offered to all seventh- and eighth-grade and non-living environment students in grade eight for the first time,” McMahon said.

In addition to positively helping students, McMahon said the plan also acts as a professional development tool as seventh- and eighth-grade teachers will step in to assist sixth-grade teachers during flex periods when they aren’t teaching a double period of math to the seventh- and eighth-graders.

Superintendent Roberta Gerold said the plan would also help the district reach its long-term goal of requiring graduating seniors to complete a research project “that capitalizes on their interests, but uses the STEM underpinnings,” she said referring to science, technology, engineering and math courses.

While some board members raised concerns over the amount of available science lab space in the middle schools, Gerold said that because of declining enrollment, more space could become available.

“We didn’t want to stop the planning because we didn’t have the traditional lab space,” Gerold said.

Board of Education President Karen Lessler said she wouldn’t want the plans to be delayed either, but also asked her fellow board members to keep in mind of the need for lab space.

“We want to move to move through the obstacles,” she said.