Group to hammer out new middle school plan

Meetings are aimed at major overhaul of priorities, programs

September 28, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The first clue about what 37 Anne Arundel County schoolteachers, parents, students and administrators are doing in closed meetings over the next month is the group's ambitious name - the Middle School Restructuring Committee.

Not the Middle School Reading Committee. Not the Middle School Electives Committee.

Over four daylong meetings, the group will reshape what middle school means in Anne Arundel County. Its recommendations could run the gamut from adding periods to the school day to making the day longer to adding time for electives.

"Everything's on the table," said Dixie Stack, the school system's director of curriculum. "We're taking a real hard look at what's the best program for middle school students. It's a challenge and an opportunity."

Two weeks ago, the state told the county that it must require all middle school pupils to take fine arts, health and physical education - courses the county had long considered electives.

The state took action after a group of parents objected to a middle school reading initiative that reduced the time for electives from two periods a day to one.

"If we insist on having this reading program, we have to fund it. And we can't fund it by cutting other courses," said Terra Ziporyn Snider, a Severna Park parent who is on the Middle School Restructuring Committee and is chairwoman of the parents group that challenged the reading program.

Quiet on progress

The restructuring group met for the first time this week. The meeting was closed to the public. Members of the group have been asked not to talk to the media. The group wants to air ideas without worrying about how they will be received.

Students from Broadneck, Chesapeake and South River high schools are also taking part. "They've been through middle school," Stack said. "They know how the experience helped them prepare for high school or, God forbid, didn't."

The group's recommendations are due to Superintendent Carol S. Parham by the end of next month. She will review them, then present them to the county's school board at its meeting Nov. 7.

All the changes must be worked out by January, when pupils register for next year's middle school classes. The new structure the group proposes must take effect in August.

"This isn't a leisurely walk in the park," Stack said. "This is a full-tilt run."

To meet the state order requiring all middle school pupils to take gym, fine arts and health by January, a separate group of eight parents, administrators and teachers is devising a temporary solution for the middle schools' second semester.

The county school system has said 30 percent of its 17,800 middle school pupils aren't taking gym this year.

The restructuring group must find a way to get those pupils into gym - and pay for it. The school system also has said it would have to hire up to 19 gym teachers to meet the state order.

More money needed

Snider said school officials must make it clear to the county that they need more money. While Anne Arundel County ranks fifth in the state in per capita income, it is 19th in per pupil spending, officials said.

"The school system is not in the habit of asking for funding," Snider said. "They have to ask for it, and that attitude has to come out of these restructuring committees."

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