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District will examine middle schools

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Independent School District 196 is taking a closer look at what makes a middle school successful.

A district steering committee will start meeting April 6 to talk about the schedule, structure, curriculum and just about everything else in place at the middle level. The discussion is expected to take much of the year, with a recommendation to the board in December on any changes.

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Just what that recommendation will look like is unclear. The committee plans to look at the current middle school model in place at District 196 schools, and at middle schools from other districts to see what works and what doesn't.

"We can at least identify where we have some gaps," said secondary education director Mark Parr. "We're really going to dive into the achievement data."

The district set out to examine the middle school program at least in part because of lagging test scores on standardized tests such as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. But the discussion has been a long time coming. Parr said the district has not given its middle schools a thorough examination since the mid-1970s.

"I'm kind of excited about it," Parr said. "Just to take some dedicated time to look at our middle schools and find out the great things we're doing and find out some areas where we have some challenges."

There have been smaller adjustments since the last major review and individual middle schools have changed their approaches to fit their particular needs, but district teaching and learning director Steve Troen said it makes sense to look at the bigger picture and to take programs that are successful at one school and expand them districtwide.

It's going to be a wide-ranging discussion. When your charge is to look at everything a middle school does, it's bound to take a little time.

Among other subjects, the committee will look at whether to adjust the class schedule to give more time to math and science, areas where middle school students have struggled on the MCA. They will also look at reasons for what appears to be a dip in tests scores from elementary to middle school.

The committee will also look at changes that might be required as the district makes budget adjustments. With 78 classroom teachers set to loose their jobs next year at all grade levels class sizes will get bigger and teachers will have fewer resources.

"Our charge is to make sure we can provide a quality education for our kids with the budget restrictions, the economic times we're in right now," said Rosemount Middle School principal Mary Thompson. "I don't know where we'll end up, but I think it's going to be a good group to really look at how we do things."

The steering committee will include principals from all six district middle schools, board members, high school and middle school representatives and a special education representative.

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