New schedule, classes in the works for Long River

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PROSPECT — School officials are proposing schedule and class changes at Long River Middle School designed to create equity and provide more “21st century learning” opportunities for students.

Each grade at the school, which serves students in grades six through eight from Beacon Falls and Prospect, operates with different class times and schedules, Principal Derek Muharem said. Sixth-graders have an eight-period day, while seventh- and eighth-graders have a nine-period day. Lunch is included as a period in the schedule.

The length of classes varies, as well. Core classes are 42 minutes long while unified arts classes, such as physical education, are 72 minutes long.

Muharem last week presented a new schedule proposal to the Region 16 Board of Education, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect.

The proposal would create a uniform day for all students.

Under the proposal, students would have seven periods a day, not counting lunch, and all classes would be about 50 to 55 minutes long. The proposal also builds in about 2 minutes in between classes for students to get to their next class. The schedule, as it stands now, doesn’t build in time for students to pass between classes, Muharem said.

The proposal would eliminate the “Pride WIN” period, which is referred to colloquially as “flex time.” The period, which is 35 minutes for sixth-graders and 30 minutes for seventh- and eighth-graders, is designed for students to get extra help from teachers or get a jump start on their homework. However, officials say the period is not being fully utilized by students.

The proposed new schedule would embed “flex time” at the end of each class daily so teachers can work with students that need help in their class.

“That model of giving kids an opportunity to get support where they need it within the class is a better model,” Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said.

Muharem added that every teacher stays 30 minutes after school daily if students need extra help.

Also, Muharem said, seventh- and eighth-graders that do not take a world language instead get a study hall, which means some students have more than 70 minutes a school day of unstructured time. While every student is expected to take a world language, he said, about 25 percent of seventh- and eighth-graders don’t take a world language.

Sixth-graders use the Rosetta Stone software to get an introduction to world languages.

The proposed schedule would also get rid of traditional study halls and students who do not take a world language would go to what Muharem described as a “study skills course” to support them with their work.

The school eliminated “flex time” as part of a schedule change before the 2014-15 school year. Some parents raised concerns that their children were overburdened without the “flex time” and couldn’t necessarily stay after school for help due to extracurricular activities. Officials reinstated “flex time” as the Pride WIN period.

Board member Priscilla Cretella said some students need more than 5 minutes at the end of class for help and can’t stay after school. Some parents, she said, want to see the matter addressed during the school day.

Muharem said a survey of parents showed they wanted “flex time” and more time in core classes. He said it’s difficult to do both.

The proposal also includes changes to the unified arts.

Under the proposal, students would take physical education and music every other day for the full school year. Now, students take physical education and music for three-quarters of the year.

The proposal would add digital music, finance, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses to the unified arts choices, while eliminating the computer app class and family and consumer science course.

Right now, the only music options for students are band and chorus.

“I think it’s turning some kids off, and we want to provide an opportunity for our kids to take something else,” said Muharem about the proposed digital music class, which is designed to give students that aren’t interested in performance music another option.

The STEM and finance courses would have different curriculum for each grade level. They would replace the computer app course, which included typing lessons, and the family and consumer science course, which covered sewing and cooking.

“We want to ensure our kids have opportunities to participate in 21st century learning,” Muharem said.

The proposed schedule and course changes wouldn’t require additional staffing, he said.

The school board gave its support, though not in a formal motion, to the proposal.

Nazih Noujaim called the proposal a great forward-moving plan that gets the school going in the right direction.

The board’s support allows officials to continue moving ahead with the proposal, which still has some details that need to be ironed out. Officials are targeting the 2017-18 school year to implement a new schedule.

Among the details that need to be ironed include what to do with the talented and gifted program. Students attend the program now during the Pride WIN period. Officials said it’s possible that students could be taken from class on a rotating basis to attend the program.

Muharem expects the schedule proposal to be finalized by the end of March. He said the changes will be communicated to parents, and the district will hold community forums on it to answer questions and concerns.