Cuts will make block scheduling a challenge

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 24, 2001

Cuts at Southwest Middle School will result in both the loss of 2.

Monday, December 24, 2001

Cuts at Southwest Middle School will result in both the loss of 2.7 teaching staff positions and the loss of some programs – specifically the loss of enrichment classes for 8th graders and reductions to the portions of the music program taught by Tami Gaudreau.

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But in order to understand the complexity of cuts at the middle school, one has to understand the way that courses are scheduled in blocks, at least according to Brian Espe, the principal at Southwest.

This school year, administration and staff instituted a new form of block scheduling. This has transformed the teachers responsible for social studies, language arts and science classes from individuals working on isolated projects with students into interdisciplinary teaching teams helping students with in-depth projects.

In order to make this happen, all students at Southwest are placed into one of eight groups, four for 7th graders and four for 8th graders. Students in those groups take the three classes together, half in the morning and half in the afternoon, moving from room to room as a group. They then take the remaining courses in the schedule – enrichment classes like Industrial Tech, Art and Family and Consumer Science, math and phy ed – the other part of the day. The interdisciplinary approach allows them to work in depth on fewer projects that can then involve instruction about research, writing and problem-solving.

One advantage of this approach to scheduling is that it allows teachers and students to work on several graduation standards in one project.

During the middle of the day, besides eating a quick lunch, students are involved in music classes. Currently at Southwest the choices involve band, choir, and orchestra. Remedial programs are also part of the schedule at this time of the day. Those students not involved in either a music program or remedial instruction go to study halls before or after eating lunch.

Cutting staff means that a lot of creative planning will need to go into setting the schedule for next year, said Espe. What hasn’t been decided is how to keep the necessary numbers of sections to make the interdisciplinary teams work.

Cutting 2.7 teaching positions also means that class sizes all over the school will be larger, a concern to many teachers at Southwest, just as is the case at the high school and the elementary schools.

&uot;I don’t know what next year will look like, though I’m pretty sure I’ll be facing more kids and more preps,&uot; said Janece Birch, a teacher at Southwest. &uot;It will be tough … you don’t have as much individual contact with kids, you don’t have as much face-to-face contact,&uot; she said.

No one seems especially surprised.

&uot;It’s what I was expecting. I kind of figured it would be something like this,&uot; said Dale Kukla, another teacher at Southwest. But teachers say they will do their best with what they are given.

The major loss in music at Southwest will be the reduction of the choir program. Tami Gaudreau, the current choir instructor at Southwest, will see her position reduced from full time to less than half time.

Much of the existing choir program will remain, but the major blow will be to the band program, now led by Geneva Fitzsimonds. Gaudreau taught many of the individual lessons for students in the band program. She provided five lessons each day, to groups of from three to six 7th graders.

Without that assistance next year, the band teacher is being put in the position of having to decide where to cut back. There is the possibility of cuts to bands, but what exactly they will be is not yet decided, said Fitzsimonds.

&uot;Right now the band lessons I already teach come at the expense of my lunch and prep time. I know I don’t have to do that, but I’m the one who is ultimately responsible for how the band sounds. I’m not going to not give them lessons,&uot; said Fitzsimonds.

But when you look at the numbers, it seems clear that changes will come, however unwelcome. There are 410 kids in sixth through eighth grade this year. According to the band directors association, a full-time band director is only supposed to be teaching 200.

Fitzsimonds, though, still holds out enthusiasm and hope for the program.

&uot;In the past, in other places, I’ve had to work very hard to build an interest in music among the kids. Here in Albert Lea all I have to do is show them the instruments and they just automatically go for it,&uot; said Fitzsimonds.