RMS teachers find successes, challenges in new structure

/ 31 May 2012 / jennifer

Nathan Hansen, Rosemount Town Pages, May 31, 2012 –

Teachers and students both find themselves with less time to get things done

For Tiffany Kienitz, keeping up with Rosemount Middle School’s revamped schedule this year has been all about pacing. Stay on top of the work as it comes, and things can run smoothly. But let things pile up and life can get difficult quickly.

For Keinitz and other RMS teachers, the new structure introduced last year as a way to both improve student performance and cut costs has created some opportunities, but it’s also created its fair share of challenges. Keinitz, a communications teacher, has gone from teaching six sections to 10. Her student load has nearly doubled from 160 to 300.

“It’s been a hard year,” Kienitz said. “There have been a lot of challenges with the schedule and with the number of students I see.”

District 196 middle schools made the switch last fall from eight-period to six-period days. It was the first major change in 34 years to the district’s middle school program, and one of the main ideas behind the shift was to give students more time in core subjects like math and English. District administrators don’t expect to know for three to five years if the changes have had exactly the impact they were looking for, but so far at least there is some encouraging evidence.

English teacher Christin Carlson and social studies teacher Ellie Mazzio both believe students have benefitted from the additional time in core classes. Carlson has seen improvements to writing and reading scores on the Measures of Academic Progress tests students take every year, and Mazzio has seen the evidence in the homework her students turn in.

“The papers I’m seeing this year are really well written,” Mazzio said.

Even that additional contact creates some challenges, though. Students have more homework than they have had in previous years. Mazzio said she has seen more incomplete assignments than she used to and teachers have heard comments from parents about students struggling to get everything done at night.

Teachers, too, find themselves with less time. Carlson’s prep time has shrunk from an hour and a half to an hour, and that time goes by quickly when she’s trying to grade papers and plan her classes. The result in many cases is more homework for teachers.

Administrators at both the building and the district levels know the new structure is a work in progress. RMS principal Mary Thompson expects to work with teachers over the summer to identify the changes that need to take place to make things run more smoothly next year.

“There’s been some growing pains,” Thompson said. “I think it’s been difficult for the core classes, for math, English, science and social studies. We end up having 30 percent more time by the end of the year, but … how do you pace your curriculum?”

One change both Thompson and the teachers identified is in the way the school structures its advisory time. Thompson said there will be more time next year for home-base teachers to form relationships with students and make sure they’re on the right track.

Secondary education director Mark Parr said he expects “tweaks” to the system for next year.

Overall, though, Thompson likes the new schedule. She believes the performance improvements will come as expected, and she is happy with the way teachers are working to make adjustments.

“When you’ve had a system for 34 years, the change can be difficult, but I think our teachers have done an extremely great job,” Thompson said. “It will take a while for us to really see the fruits of our labor. In the end result, it’s all about the kids.”