Following PEN’s parent program with 4th grade parents, many questions arose about middle schools for the 2012-13 school year. This is a summary of a follow-up meeting PEN Executive Director Nancy Dufford had with Dr. Meg Abrahamson, Director of Student Support Programs at PUSD. Dr. Abrahamson is one of the Instructional Leadership Team administrators for PUSDwho is working on improving the middle school program in PUSD.
Next year will mostly be a planning year for the middle schools. We know that parents are anxious to move forward, but before implementing anything new, the district will pilot some programs next year. These programs will be aligned with the Common Core standards and integrate 21st century skills. For more information about the direction the district is moving, visit Common Core Standards, 21st century skills, and Understanding by Design.
The administration is well aware that the middle school curriculum needs improvement. There is a Curriculum Revision Workshop made up of about 100 PUSD teachers who are re-writing units to meet the new Common Core Standards (CCS). Since the new standards need to be implemented in 2014, various sites will pilot new project-based instructional programs next school year. The Common Core standards have fewer math requirements, and generally require deeper, rather than wider, understanding. There is more hands-on project based learning and demonstration of understanding required with the CCS. The current assessments will need to be realigned to address the changes.
The district is also exploring academy programs in addition to the STEM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that is planned for Washington MS in 2013. There is a priority to make Eliot a “more student centered environment” with more enrichment opportunities. This is considered a priority in the hiring of new Eliot principal Lorena Martinez.
The stand-alone middle schools (Eliot, Washington, and Wilson) have had two additional teachers to implement a block schedule; next year there won’t be funding for two extra teachers, so it will be up to the schools whether they can make the block schedule work. There are differing models for block schedules and these are being explored. The district is trying to figure out a way for schools to provide four blocks, a block for an elective, and a shorter block (40 min.) for students in need of English Language Development (ELD), which is required for low performers. For students who don’t need ELD, there would be an enrichment class such as Destination Imagination, Creative Writing, Math intervention, etc. That being said, there aren’t specific teachers for electives and electives must be taught by credentialed teachers, so schools will offer electives that match with their teachers’ expertise and interests.
Placement is based on CSTs and/or classroom performance and teacher recommendation. The challenge is when there aren’t enough students to offer a class at any given level. For example, if there are only a handful of students who are ready for geometry in 8th grade at a particular school, they currently can take the class at one of the high schools. Unlike the other middle schools, Washington consistently has two 8th grade geometry classes. The district is exploring the option of students taking an approved on-line class. Any on-line class would require teacher supervision.
Class size will remain the same next year. The exception is Washington MS. Because they are a QEIA* school, they receive additional funds from the state for class size reduction. Because of the budget crisis, for the 2012-13 school year they will have 25:1 ratio, up from the previous three years. *Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) of 2006 provides funding to 488 low performing schools in California. These schools, ranked in the lowest two deciles by the state's 2005 Academic Performance Index, have high percentages of low-income, minority and English learners.
This summer a team of teachers is being trained in how to re-design instruction to meet the Common Core standards. They will then train other teachers. Other planned PD is around implementing rigorous programs and what that means.
Each school determines how they will offer robotics based on the needs instructional needs of their students.
We talked about how parent engagement means different things to different parents, and for most PUSD parents it means making sure your student does their homework, attends school, and periodically attending a school event. PUSD’s communications department, PEN, and some parents are developing the framework for a district Parent Engagement Action Team. The primary objectives of the team are to strengthen and support parent engagement by being a hub for authentic communication, shared responsibility and partnership; and to support knowledge, skills, and responsibilities that parents and educators need to collaborate to support student success.