Schools panel discusses Middle Level

It’s been several years since the Warren County School District overhauled the middle school program.

Now the school board wants an update on how the program is functioning.

District administration gave such a report to the Curriculum, Instruction and Technology Committee.

Board Vice-president Donna Zariczny specifically asked administration to explain “the differences we have between the buildings. Are we all doing the program? Is everybody doing it the same way? What are those differences?”

Gary Weber, district director of curriculum, instruction and learning, explained that the primary similarity can be “found in the schedule. They are all following that same schedule.”

That schedule provides four core course periods, each approximately an hour and a half in length, for math, language arts, science and social studies. Students are also offered exploratory periods for subjects such as art and music. Under the model, students are assigned to a team of teachers for their core courses. A key facet of the format is that the teachers on a team are afforded common planning time and can discuss issues and concerns that might arise with individual students.

Weber also outlined some differences that exist across the district.

He explained that each school is delivering the material in their own unique way, as well as potentially providing unique opportunities through their exploratory or advisory time. “You may see differences within those types of programs,” said Weber.

Weber also told the committee that the cross-curricular activities, units of activities that cover multiple content areas, are not going to be uniform across the district.

He cautioned the board that budget cuts over the last couple of years, primarily in staffing, have impacted the effect of the middle level program. Some teachers have been moved from teaching at the high school level to the middle school level and some of those teams of teachers have changed.

Zariczny asked whether additional in-service training opportunities have been offered to teachers coming down from the high school level to explain “what we’re trying to achieve and details in how the program is achieved?”

“Principals provide that instruction,” Weber said, explaining that building administrators participate in each team’s meetings occasionally, as well as meeting with the team leaders weekly. “Anytime we’ve pulled someone down, (we’ve) put them with strong partners. In some cases we’ve been able to do some county-wide planning.”

Regarding planning periods, Zariczny asked whether, in light of budget cuts, all four buildings are getting the same amount of planning time.

Weber said that, at Eisenhower, the district “made a change on the fly.” Citing changing student numbers in band, chorus and advisory, “we had to adapt with the staffing that we had,” he added. Providing additional programming for students “did take away from team planning,” he admitted. “We tried to offer opportunities to do some team planning when possible but not to the extent the other schools are doing this year.”

But the time cut wasn’t lost. “For the opportunity that was lost, we had an opportunity to offer programming to kids we weren’t offering in other schools,” Weber said, emphasizing that teachers spent more time working in an advisor capacity. He said that the staff did an “excellent job stepping up and working with the kids under the circumstances.”

“Looking on the staffing end of things, to say that it is ideal at Eisenhower is not fair,” Amy Stewart, district director of administrative support services, said. “(It is) on our list of things to rectify for next year.”