Duluth School Board switches middle schools to six-period day

/ 6 June 2012 / jennifer

Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune, June 6, 2012 –

The Duluth school district will save nearly $1 million by switching Lincoln Park and Ordean East middle schools to six-period days next school year, down from seven periods.

Start times also will change for several schools as part of the change.

The Duluth School Board voted 5-0 on both measures in a special meeting Tuesday night. Members of the Duluth Federation of Teachers have also approved the middle school change, which was required for it to happen.

The move to a six-period day — which the high schools already have — is meant to save about $900,000 through layoffs as the district works to cut $3.5 million from its budget. The decision means the district won’t have to increase class sizes as much as otherwise would have been necessary.

Board members struggled with the decision, which means eliminating one eighth-grade elective course and providing less time for advising, after-school programs and teacher meetings to accommodate the bus schedule.

“This has been very upsetting to me,” said member Judy Seliga Punyko. “I hope this is a temporary dilemma and in the next year or two we can bring back full seven periods.”

Board chairwoman Ann Wasson asked for an amendment to the proposal involving the list of elective choices for eighth grade. She proposed removing the “Wheel” choice, which includes a quarter each of art, Project Lead the Way, family and consumer science, and computers (Project Lead the Way is a technical education class that involves pre-engineering, computer design and robotics). That would allow students to choose either a year of band, choir, orchestra, Spanish, German or Mandarin I, or to pick a semester each of two Wheel offerings. The board approved the amendment.

“I wanted to give parents and students the opportunity to have a longer elective” and to make choices, Wasson said.

That amendment means seventh-graders will need to re-register. Superintendent Bill Gronseth said parents can expect a letter today describing elective choices. Students are asked to bring their completed form back to school Thursday so administrators can finish scheduling teachers and their classes. If forms aren’t returned, Gronseth said, staff members will call each family to get their choices.

Telling seventh-graders and their families they need to register again might convince parents “on the bubble” to send their kids elsewhere, said Woodland Middle School teacher Tim Churchill.

“It’s going to look like we don’t have our act together,” he said.

The Duluth Federation of Teachers approved the switch to a six-period day but wasn’t happy about the move, said Frank Wanner, the union’s president.

But the alternatives were further increasing class sizes and eliminating elementary specialists such as library media, art, music and physical education teachers, he said.

“It was really hard, because we eliminate a portion of what we felt was really important about the middle school day,” Wanner said, referring to the elective course options. “Students aren’t going to have the same kinds of opportunities they had in the past.”

The measure passed easily within the union, he said, because teachers at every grade level are concerned about increasing class sizes.

As for school start times, all of the district’s elementary schools will run from 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Middle schools will go from 8:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. and high schools will run from 9:05 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.

The district hadn’t planned to change start times, but the move was part of the agreement with the teachers union. The middle school day is also 30 minutes shorter. Fifteen of those minutes are instruction time and 15 come from “passing” or hallway time.

Members Art Johnston and Mary Cameron were absent from the meeting.