First Public Meeting On Intermediate School Changes
Monday morning marathon airs concerns over moving music program
Wall School District administrators on Monday held the first of three meetings on proposed changes to the Intermediate School schedule that would bump music instruction from the regular school day in favor of extended math and language instruction.
More than 60 attended meeting, held at the Intermediate School auditorium at 9:15 a.m. The event was covered live by Wall Patch. The transcript of the live chat from the 2 ½-hour meeting can be found here.
All three administrators from the Intermediate School were joined by district Curriculum Director Mary Jane Garibay and Interim Superintendent Stephanie Bilenker in making the district’s case for the schedule changes, which they described as necessary because of the school’s lagging standardized test scores.
The district is proposing expanding to 80 minutes each the language and mathematics instruction in grades six and seven for the upcoming school year. Eighth grade students would have their math and language instruction bumped up to 60 minutes each, according to the presentation.
The plan, however, would push music instruction to a before or after-school session once a week. Pupils would also be pulled from gym class once a week and could opt to cut short their lunch period for music practice, administrators said.
The expanded instruction is being considered because of the school’s designation as a “School In Need Of Improvement,’’ by the state department of education. The designation is given to those schools that fail to make progress on standardized tests for two or more consecutive years.
John Higham, assistant principal at the Intermediate School, presented the schools’ rankings among similar school districts in the state, of which there are 54, he said. The Intermediate School ranks in the lower tiers in mathematics and lower still in language arts, according to the presentation.
In 2011, for instance, seventh grade students ranked 48th of 54 districts in language arts scores, he said.
"That's an eye-opening slide right there,'' he said.
Administrators said they had looked to similar school districts that perform better and found that those schools spent far more time in math and language instruction.
"We're not performing as well as others are and others are devoting more time to language and math instruction,'' Higham said.
Intermediate School Assistant Principal Tiffany Steiner said the longer blocks of time in math and language would give a more in depth, cohesive, uninterrupted exploration of curriculum.
Audience members questioned the administration’s decision, and expressed frustration over the apparent decision of the district and its dissemination of information to parents and the community as a whole in a question-and-answer period that lasted 1½ hours.
“We did look at everything,” Bilenker said. “We tried not to pull children from academic area. I know it’s a very difficult decision. We ended up with the best we could do.”
The tenor of the meeting turned more cordial following a talk by Wall High School Music teacher Leslie Hollander, who spoke in favor of a before-school music session.
Hollander said music teachers, if given the choice between a before-school session and an after-school session, would much prefer the former. He spoke of several districts that have success with the before-school music session and also are making academic progress on standardized tests.
“We picked zero period as a music department, because kids are already overscheduled,’’ Holander said. “We felt that the morning program was better.”
The morning period was taken off the table following the parent survey that district officials put on the district website last week. More parents chose the after-school session as more suitable, officials said.
That decision may be revisited, however, following Monday’s meeting. In an unofficial straw poll, a majority of parents at the meeting favored the before-school option.
Not all parents were convinced.
“What we have here is a false dichotomy,’’ parent Jim Boyle said at the meeting. “Everyone here is pitting music against instruction: you can have both. There are districts that do it. It may be hard, but you don't have to choose.’’
Boyle also has distributed a sample schedule for the Intermediate School that does both. The proposed scheduled worked up by Boyle he says is similar to the one followed by Memorial Middle School in Point Pleasant Borough.
Memorial uses a 10-period day, where Wall Intermediate uses just 9 periods. But according to Boyle’s schedule, the Memorial school day is just 11 minutes longer.
By adjusting the time spent in each period from Wall Intermediate’s 41 minutes to a 38-minute period, the Intermediate school could add a 10th period in the regular school day, keep music instruction and accomplish the district’s goal of having two periods of math and language instruction.
“It is not an impossible solution and there are examples of it everywhere,’’ Boyle said in an email.