Spanish language lessons for all. Physical education for all. Algebra I for some, but limited just for now.
These are just a few proposed changes to the Forest Park Middle School (FPMS) schedule and curriculum unveiled at a school board meeting on April 12. District 91 Superintendent Louis Cavallo said changes in state regulations and added flexibility allowed by recent departures of some veteran teachers allowed the district to update the school’s plan.
Highlights of the proposed new schedule, which Cavallo noted will eventually be presented to all current FPMS students, parents and fifth-graders set to enter the school next year, include: longer, 58-minute lesson blocks for teaching math and other core subjects like social studies, science and English Language Arts; more coding and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) content during iDiscover; Spanish-language class five days a week for all seventh-and eighth-grade students; and an exploratory class for sixth-grade students will be extended to a semester-length, rather than a trimester. Sixth graders’ new exploratory class options will include iDiscover, music, band, physical education, art or Spanish-language.
Next school year, 25 percent of eighth-graders will also be admitted into Algebra I, an advanced math class. Teachers and school staff will choose students to enter Algebra I based on their scores from the state Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam and the district’s FastBridge tests. Cavallo said the district aims to eventually enroll all eighth-graders in Algebra I.
“When Common Core was first implemented we changed our schedule,” Cavallo said. “At that point the directive was, we aren’t going to be tracking and only ensure that a small percentage of our kids are on track for success in Common Core and high school. We want to raise the bar for all. So we did away with tracking. But I’ll be the first to admit that didn’t work very well.”
To accommodate the longer class periods, lunches will be shortened to 20 minutes. Bells will also disappear from the middle school so that classes aren’t constantly being interrupted, Cavallo said. Middle-school students will also not have more than two academic classes in a row, and daily physical education and recess will be offered to all students.
“Early adolescents are very social animals, if you don’t provide the time for them to be social, they will find the time,” Cavallo said.
Cavallo said he planned to ask board members for approval to hire an additional Spanish teacher and math coach for the middle school, as well as new materials for Algebra I at the May 10 board meeting. He noted the middle school is the only school in the district without a math coach to offer classroom support and training for teachers.
“We had two teachers that we lost this year that we did not replace and we would like to replace those two teachers,” Cavallo said, adding: “This is a net zero proposition.”
He said this was the third iteration of the proposed schedule, and all middle school teachers discussed the changes over many meetings for several months.
Parent Rina Petersen said she is thrilled about the changes proposed — particularly longer periods for studying math and the addition of Spanish — and added that this is the first major, positive change she’s seen in the time her sixth-grade daughter Ella has been in the district.
“I think it is good that parents and the administration are now on the same page, that we are aware that we did poorly on math [in PARCC],” Petersen said. “By acknowledging the issue, we can find a solution and plan to fix it.”