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New-look middle school program gets board approval

The District 196 School Board officially approved a new structure for the district's middle school program on Monday, but middle school employees were already hard at work getting ready for the transition.

The new middle school program, approved unanimously Monday, includes a change from an eight-period day to a six-period day, new electives for older students and opportunities for teachers to offer extra help for students who are struggling or challenges for students who excel.

At Rosemount Middle School, administrators are hard at work preparing registration materials for students who will suddenly have more choices on their schedules.

The registration process will not change much for sixth grade students, but seventh- and eighth graders will have more electives available to them starting next year.

"One of the main things is preparing a registration packet to make sure that when we do send it out it's clear to families how you would register and what it would look like," said athletic director Brad Schaffer, one of the RMS administrators working on the registration material.

There will be registration information available for parents at upcoming conferences, and Schaffer said the school will take steps to make sure students understand their options before they take their registration material home.

"Once our staff gets educated on it, we want to try to educate the parents," Schaffer said. "We're going to hold meetings at the school to clarify it for the parents."

Schaffer expects RMS to hold a meeting in February for parents.

The new middle school program creates new opportunities for choice at the seventh and eighth grade levels by making electives classes that are currently required -- such as family and consumer science and technical education. That idea didn't sit well with some parents who attended a public meeting Dec. 2 to introduce the proposed changes. They felt those subjects were important enough students should be required to take them.

With classes like tech. education and family and consumer science moving from required to electives, teachers are breaking full-year courses into more specialized, single-trimester offerings.

Art teachers are also offering more specialized options.

The variety of options available to students was one of the selling points district administrators pointed to when they introduced the proposed changes. The new structure is the product of a process that included examination of middle school programs in several successful districts. It is designed to improve student performance, particularly in core subject areas like math and English that are the subject of testing on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment. Under the new schedule students will take math classes for about 57 minutes every day instead of 80 minutes every other day.

The changes won't all come next year. The basic structure of the day will change next fall, but other changes will be phased in over three to five years.

The change is largely focused on improving performance, but with budget cuts looming there is also an eye on budget impact. The model approved Monday will require an estimated 26 fewer teachers and is expected to save the district $1.78 million.

Teachers will have to make some adjustments next year. Teaching and learning director Steve Troen told board members Monday work has already begun on an implementation plan.

Some teachers will have to change the way they approach their lessons. Science teachers will find themselves with more time in each class. That could mean more opportunity to do hands-on learning but teachers will have to prepare to make the best use of the time.

"I think staff is a little apprehensive," Schaffer said. "It's going to be a change, but I think once we get a handle on the schedule it's a positive move. Students get a little more choice. I think that's a positive move. I think from a parent standpoint, students will meet in their core classes every day as opposed to every other day."

Now, the school just needs to make sure everyone understands all of that.