BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Columbia Middle School (CMS) students will follow a “rotate and drop” schedule next year, just like the one at Governor Livingston. The Board of Education unanimously approved the measure after a convincing presentation by CMS Principal Frank Geiger and Assistant Principal Grace Acosta at the board’s Thursday, Dec. 13 meeting.

The schedule will change from eight 46-minute periods per day to six with 57 minutes each. Two of the classes offered now in the eight-period day will be “dropped” to the next day on a rotating four-day schedule with a longer common lunch period each day, when all grades will be offered lunch during the same 49-minute time period. Lunch will offer the opportunity for students to eat as well as to take advantage of a variety of enrichment opportunities. Lunch is now 30 minutes.

There will be no more “opportunity periods” at the start of each day. The opportunity periods are used as an extension of homeroom. Students have access to teachers but are not allowed to do homework. These will be replaced by “enrichment” periods (EP), sometimes scheduled around lunch, which will include cycle classes and a scheduled
advisory cycle, world languages for sixth graders, time to complete homework, practices for band and chorus when the enrichment period falls adjacent to lunch, and EP’s will continue to run concurrently with the grade level teaching teams so children can go to teachers for help.

Geiger said, “Governor Livingston students concur it is an awesome schedule. We keep a consistent scheduling, recognizing that each class has value.”

These are the student advantages outlined by Geiger:

• More hands-on labs and fewer teacher demonstrations
• More time to get one-on-one time with the teacher
• More opportunity to explore and collaborate in small groups
• Greater access to the building’s technology – Geiger noted most students have not sat down at a computer during a timed event. He said online testing is coming.
• Students experience classes at different times of the day
• Students seeing six classes a day versus seven or eight in the resent schedule allows them to better focus on each class
• Less of the day is spent in transition from room to room, and
• Fewer classes each day = less evening prep time, fewer concerns and reduced anxiety.

Teacher advantages include increased opportunity to differentiate instruction while seeking answers to the essential questions allowing opportunities for whole group, small group and individual instruction; quality of work over quantity of work, greater time for collaborative thinking and teaching opportunities.

Also, students will be seen at different times of the day. Sixth grade teachers will be teaching a single class, instead of two, so they will be able to develop a greater expertise in a specific content. There will be more time to allow for more engaging hands-on experiences and labs. And, more time to engage students to explore and discover.

Geiger said he spoke with many middle school administrators who currently have a rotate and drop schedule in place, including Watchung Middle School, which has the mirror image of the schedule proposed for Columbia Middle School.

“It’s well-tested,” Geiger said. “In the 60s it was know as flexible schedules. Kids have time to do things during the day that they don’t have after school.” He said the club offerings during the longer lunch period will be considerable including art club, chorus, drama, a drummers club, French club, future film makers club, golf club, jazz band, knowledge masters, “Men in Black” boys’ chorus, science club, school newspaper, Spanish club, student
government, vocal ensemble, a yearbook club and more. Some school enrichment activities will also continue after school, such as the drama club.

The library and computer labs will also be open during lunch, and supervised. There will be quiet rooms for homework and reading, and others to complete projects with partners. Grade-level and multi-grade level guidance groups will also meet during this time. Offerings may change as both students and teachers offer suggestions and opinions.

Geiger said the rotate and drop schedule will cost some money. Recurring costs will be about $100,000. They include staff increase of one sixth grade teacher, and depending upon the number of students who request these enrichment classes, world language teachers, physical education and health teachers and new club advisors. He noted the allotment on teacher duty periods during lunch will likely reduce the present supervision expense.

One-time costs are estimated at $21,000 for additional lunch tables and materials to protect the floors. Sixth grade students will be eating in the cafeteria and seventh and eighth graders will eat in the Gold Gym. Both hot and cold lunches will continue to be offered.

Geiger said, “I believe firmly that the benefits far offset the costs,” and the entire school board agreed heartily.

In other business:

  • The Governor Livingston High School Band was recognized for being the 2012 Group 1 Open Atlantic Coast champions. There are 43 students in the band who competed against 26 other bands for the honor. They took first place in the Music Category as well.
  • The 2011-12 school audit went extremely well. Auditor Charles Heard Jr. said, “I’m happy to say this year we have no recommendations and no findings to report.”
  • Board member Doug Reinstein reported an agreement has been reached between the Board of Education and the Berkeley Heights Teachers’ Association. It is a three-year contract covering July 1, 2012 through June 30 2015. He said highlights of the agreement include teacher raises - teachers will be receiving six percent over three years annualized to two percent each year. A Healthcare Savings Account will be offered to which the board will contribute 75 percent. And, all teachers will begin contributing to their healthcare this year using a sliding scale to over four years to determine the amount.