Block schedule not appropriate for middle school

To the Editor:

For those of you who remember growing up and watching Ed Sullivan on Sunday evenings and flipping baseball cards you also remember going to Junior High School. But in the 1960’s, in many parts of this country, education changed this model to the Middle School. With the current proposal from Fairfield’s central office and administrators to move to a block schedule in the middle schools for the next school year, we just may be headed back in that direction.

The movement to a block schedule in the high schools a few years ago is one of the justifications towards doing the same in our middle schools. If this proposal ends up going through, 6th to 8th graders will be sitting through 88 minute class periods (compared to current 45 minutes), meet with their teachers every other day (compared to every day), and lose homeroom which allows students to settle into the day. By virtue of going from 5 class periods a day of instruction to 4 will end up in larger class sizes. Central office and administrators will argue that they are committed to the team concept of middle school which is absolutely vital for students in this stage of their educational, social and emotional development, but I would argue that this too is in jeopardy.

The argument in making the change is that by going to longer class periods it will allow students to engage deeper into more demanding curriculum, slow the day down with fewer passings between classes and build into the schedule a block of time for enrichment or intervention. The 262 middle school staff members were not intimately involved in this decision nor were they included in the development of the schedule. While we knew this was being reviewed, we were surprised to return to the new school year to learn that it had been decided to implement for the next school year. Needless to say there was a lot of rumbling and prompted the Fairfield Education Association to survey the teachers for their thoughts. In round numbers: 30% were outright against making the change, 15% were in favor, 15% were in favor but thought we would not be ready for the next school year and 40% were open but had too many unanswered questions - not the least of which is what this intervention and enrichment block would actually look like. This is far from a buy in.

This proposed schedule was presented to the BOE and it was evident that there are still many unanswered questions. As the budget process begins in January, much work needs to be done. Administrators said the teachers will now be involved in helping answer these questions in Professional Development sessions. To think the many questions will be answered in this venue is beyond wishful thinking.

While one would hope the board could stop, or at least slow down the train, the reality is that this decision is beyond their purview. Their role is to understand and approve the financial implications to the budget. It is clear by now that the will of the teachers is not a factor in going forward. And the only way this will be addressed is for the community at large to make their voices heard. This change is a solution in search of a problem and is not appropriate for middle school students.

Frank Sahagian

Fairfield

8th grade teacher at Fairfield Woods Middle School