BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Columbia Middle School Principal Frank Geiger received mixed reviews from parents on a proposal to change scheduling at his school for the 2013-2014 year to the same scheduling used at Governor Livingston High School – rotate and drop.

The current format has the same subject scheduled at the same time every day for 46 minutes and a 30-minute lunch period. The proposed schedule has longer periods of 57 to 59 minutes each. The classes would rotate from first period to second period and so on on succeeding days for four days and be dropped on the fifth day. Lunch would be 54 minutes and it would include all three grades at the same time.

Geiger said there are four goals to the proposed schedule:

• Increasing time on task in any given instructional setting – giving each class longer class time. This, he said, “allows for providing greater time for student reflection; designing activities that promote critical and creative thinking through extended opportunities; and, the use of more student collaborative learning experiences.”

• “Enhancing the learning experience;

• “Meeting the needs of every student;

• “Determining if a rotate and drop schedule meets our criteria.”

The new schedule would capture “the essence of what we have now in language arts in sixth grade and would increase staffing to include a reading specialist for sixth grade,” he said.

Geiger said the extended time of each class provides students with “more in-depth study of topics and more hands-on activities,” noting that “intervention and services as well as co-curricular activities would benefit from the extended time” for each class.

He thought the one-hour, combined lunch period could be a “springboard for other learning/service/student-led opportunities in a multi-grade setting.” Some parents disagree, noting an hour for lunch is a very long time for a sixth grader.

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“They’ll be bouncing off the walls,” said parent Trisha Kelly.

Students would only have six classes with homework, rather than seven each evening.

Regarding teacher considerations -- special education would benefit. Geiger said there would be 50 percent more contact time per session. He said the new scheduling would also maintain opportunities for collaboration and team planning, and the extended classroom time would allow for flexibility in utilizing hands-on activities, such as labs.

Teachers will need to be trained during staff meetings and current common time to prepare and practice longer lessons. Geiger proposes the whole school have practice days during the spring.

He said there are several things for the community to consider:

  • Sixth grade teachers who now teach two subjects will only have one assigned subject;
     
  • A new team schedule in grade six allows for a new technology lab in the school’s “A” wing;

 

  • A less fragmented day and week

 

  • Alternating schedules have been linked to a decrease in disciplinary problems – although Geiger said this is really not a concern at Columbia Middle School.
     
  • Alignment with the high school’s scheduling allows for teacher sharing and eases the transition from eighth to ninth grade.

Parents and board members gave mixed reviews to the new schedule when it comes to longer “opportunity” periods (OP). Now there is a 35-minute opportunity period every day at the start of the day when students can take unscheduled time to do what they need to do. In the proposal, OP would be for 57-59 minutes on three out of the four days in the rotated schedule. Some parents think it is a waste of time. Others view it as an opportunity for students who need it to get extra help.

Superintendent Judith Rattner said she would like to make a decision on whether or not to move forward with the change in scheduling by Nov. 1 because it has budget implications for the new reading teacher, and in-service and professional development days need to be scheduled for the teachers. She will bring it back to the board for a decision prior to that.

Geiger said he plans to have a parent information session on the proposed scheduling during the next PTO meeting and he will hold other evening meetings to acquaint parents with the program throughout the year.