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Transition brings challenges and opportunities at RMS

As students enjoy the last few days of their summer vacations, teachers at Rosemount Middle School are making final preparations for a school year that will look very different than what they are used to.

Middle schools teachers and administrators around Independent School District 196 have been working since early this year to adjust to a new middle school structure designed to boost student performance and cut costs. The new-look schedule, the result of several months of study, will have six class periods per day rather than eight and provide students more time in core classes like math, science and English.

For teachers, the change has meant taking an in-depth look at lessons they have been teaching for years in some cases, figuring out what works, what doesn't and what has to change as class lengths change.

Teachers are aligning lessons to state standards and working together to make sure a student at RMS is learning the same things as students at any of the district's other middle schools.

"We're really getting tight as far as, 'This is what the expectation is, this is what your child will know when they take this course,'" RMS principal Mary Thompson said.

In some cases the change to a six-period day will mean longer class periods. But in others, teachers used to having students for 80 minutes every other day will now have shorter classes every day. American studies teacher Ellie Mazzio joked this week that she has thought about posting reminders around her room that the bell signaling the end of class will come earlier than she is used to.

"I'm sure it will take time to acclimate to a new schedule," reading teacher Karyn Cattoor said.

Science teacher Travis Monson said it will be a challenge to fit lab exercises into a shorter class period. And communication teacher Tamara Collucci said she's been looking at lessons she's used for years to figure out how they'll have to change.

Teachers see benefits to the new structure, though. Mazzio said she's looking forward to having students in her classroom every day and expects them to forget less information between class sessions. And Cattoor believes the daily contact with students will help as she works with students who are struggling to read.

The new structure also gives students more options for taking elective classes.

When teachers first learned about the planned change, it seemed a little bit overwhelming.

"I think in the beginning last year, when we first heard about this, we were freaking out," Collucci said. "But the district gave us time."

Middle school teachers started meeting last spring both in their buildings and districtwide to talk about what they teach and how they can make sure students are prepared to meet state standards on tests like the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. Much of that time has come during regular prep time for teachers, but in many cases, teachers have also come in on their own time to work things out.

There have been other difficulties as well. The new structure resulted in the elimination of several teaching positions. That has meant layoffs at RMS, and it has meant new faces as other teachers are shuffled around buildings because of seniority or the electives students want to take.

"I'd be lying if I said this hasn't been a difficult process, because we've lost some incredible teachers to other buildings based on what students are wanting to take. We're a pretty tight building. It's like family. When you lose some of the people who were here, we don't have a lot of teachers who leave Rosemount Middle to go somewhere else."

Now, with the first day of school fast approaching, teachers are confident they are ready to go, and that the new structure will be better for students.

"It's exciting," Monson said. "It's exciting to make some changes and know we're going to make positive progress."