School board weighs schedules

3 options offered to comply with Md. arts, gym class order

Attention span an issue

January 11, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The county school board received three options yesterday for implementing a state order to enroll all middle school pupils in fine arts, health and physical education every year.

Interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson asked the board to choose one of the options by Jan. 23, to give the middle schools time to schedule pupils and hire teachers for the fall.

No matter what the board chooses, starting in the fall all middle schoolers will take a yearlong physical education and health class, with nine weeks devoted to health and 27 weeks to gym. That class has been optional for almost three decades.

Everything else is up in the air, including how much time children will spend in reading and fine arts classes.

The school board is also grappling with how much time teachers should have each day for planning and how long each class period should be, given the attention spans of middle-schoolers.

The three options, presented at a board workshop last night, call for a four-, six- or seven-period day.

The four-period day would allow for 86-minute sessions. Though the school system staff did not endorse any of the options, members spoke favorably of the four-period day.

"Teachers may have some hesitancy, but once they begin, that is the model they want," said Judy Jenkins, a director of instruction.

"We know students have to be actively engaged, and this model provides teachers with that opportunity," Jenkins said.

Some school board members said they were concerned about whether children, especially those with attention problems, could focus on one subject for 86 minutes and whether teachers could adapt.

"My concern is not what they want but whether they are capable," board member Vaugh Brown said of the teachers. "It's a dramatic change from what they've been doing their whole professional lives."

A group of parents who served on a middle school restructuring committee last fall recommended that the school board adopt a seven-period day because that would allow the most time for electives.

"Middle school is the last chance for a risk-free exposure to a variety of subjects, for children to discover hidden talents and passions," said parent Alison Thompson of Laurel.

Some members of the school system staff said the seven-period day, with its 47-minute sessions, would cut instructional time for pupils.

"There are definitely concerns about making periods shorter and how that may impact the academic progress of the students," said Ken Nichols, a director of instruction.

Many people have suggested that the seven-period day would work best if an extra 30 minutes was added to the middle school day, but the interim superintendent said that would cost millions of dollars, money the school system can't count on receiving from the county.

The process is being overseen by the state Department of Education. Nancy S. Grasmick, the state superintendent of schools, wants a plan for the fall on her desk by March 15.

She also asked one of her top lieutenants, Karen E. Ganjon, to work closely with the county in developing the new middle school schedule.

Ganjon attended last night's workshop but expressed no opinions.

The board is considering these three options:

Six-period day: All but two of the county's middle schools already use this schedule. Each class period is 55 minutes, and the average class size is 28 pupils.

Seven-period day: Each class period is 47 minutes. If teachers are required to teach six classes a day, the average class is 27. If teachers have five classes a day, the average size is 32.

Four-period day: Each class period would be 86 minutes, and the average class size would be 30. Every day, pupils would have three of the four core subjects, reading, math, social studies and science. The classes would run on a daily rotation, with some dropping as the week wears on.

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