SPARTA, NJ – The Principal of Sparta Middle School Michael Gregory and Principal of  Sparta High School Dr Daniel Johnson presented proposed changes to their schools’ schedules for the 2015-2016 school year, at the rescheduled board of education meeting on Jan 29. 

The high school was presented first.  In addition to moving the start time back by 15 minutes to 7:20 a.m. the proposal represents significant changes to the school’s operation.

After the presentations, during the public comment portion of the agenda several people voiced concerns about the proposed changes.  They included the fact that parents and the community had not had a chance to hear and discuss the proposals prior to that night when they were on the agenda for a vote.  Superintendent Dennis Tobin had the vote on the proposed schedules removed from that night’s agenda to allow for further discussion. 

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When asked for a comment about his proposal Johnson said, “The only thing I have to state at this time is that my desire in examining the schedule is to make sure that our school is as safe as possible, has a culture that is welcoming to all students in all grade levels, and retains its excellence in academics, which is paramount.  Over the past three years, we have continually demonstrated increases in our academic performance.  Administrative decisions have increased the culture of the building, leading to more acceptance and structure within our school.  It is our desire that these things be highlighted when defining administrative decisions.” 

The current high school schedule is a rotating schedule with four classes meeting before lunch and four after. This schedule has a 58 minute period designated to lunch, divided into lunch A and B.   Those classes rotate so that students and staff do not have the same class first period, last period or the period before or after lunch every day.  The rotation allows science lab to take place during lunch A or B when the science class rotates to the period adjacent to lunch.  The current schedule was researched prior to the reconstruction, including administrators, staff, board and community members visiting high achieving schools to see what was possible.  The common areas of the school were designed around this current schedule. 

Johnson’s presentation began with his concerns about the current schedule.  His concern is primarily focused on the lunch period.  He is concerned that there are not enough staff members to supervise the students in the cafeteria.  Currently three administrators, two vice principals and the director of guidance monitor the cafeteria.  There are also two security guards on duty at all times when school is in session, walking the building and parking lots, though they were not listed in the presentation.

With the current lunch plan students are able to eat in the cafeteria or on the bleachers of the auxiliary gym.  Some students also choose to eat on the floor of the hallways.  Johnson’s presentation indicated the cafeteria is able to accommodate 800 of the 1200 students in the school.  The school was designed to allow for an open campus lunch, with students able to move through the building to classrooms for academic assistance, music and art rooms, media center and other offices in the building.  Some students are not in the cafeteria at lunch because they are in science lab.

Johnson points to the lunch period as the time when “the largest number of incidents occur,” including “nearly 60% of the referrals [reports] of Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying.”  Last year the district indicated of all of the HIB referrals there were six confirmed cases of actual HIB.  He also cited concern from the NJDOE regarding having sufficient supervision in schools that have unit lunches, along with adequate plans for safety and security. 

The rotating schedule was an additional area of concern to Johnson.  The report states, “Since the rotation has been implemented we have seen an increase in tardies…they now have four times as many opportunities to be late before losing credit.”

Without the rotating schedule students will be pulled out of physical education for a science lab.  If they have two science lab classes they will have to miss physical education and lunch.    

The proposed schedule calls for a nine period day.  Four days a week the periods will be 43 minutes.  On Wednesdays however, every class will be reduced to 39 minutes to accommodate a 34 minute block at the end of the day for academic assistance. 

Currently students have access to academic assistance every day during the lunch period.  The proposal says English, History, Science and Math labs will be open during the lunch periods for students who do not want to wait until Wednesday.

Other districts in New Jersey high schools that currently operate on a rotating schedule are:

  • Chatham,
  • Mendham,
  • Livingston,
  • Northern Valley Regional,
  • Governor Livingston,
  • Ridgewood,
  • Madison,
  • Cherry Hill,
  • Kinnelon,
  • Morristown,
  • Hackettstown,
  • Randolph,
  • Highland Park,
  • Egg Harbor Township,
  • Paramus,
  • West Morris,
  • Glen Rock,
  • West Windsor-Plainsboro,
  • Hopewell Valley,
  • Lawrence,
  • Phillipsburg,
  • River Dell,
  • North Brunswick,
  • Verona

The proposals are expected to be discussed again at the Feb 23 board of education meeting.  That meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m., earlier than usual to accommodate several planned presentations.

The middle school proposal will be covered in a subsequent article.