Parents at Silver Spring school worry schedule change will dissipate progress -- Gazette.Net


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Parents at Silver Spring International Middle School worry that a scheduling change will undercut the academic progress the school has made in the past decade.

After studying the change this school year, central office administration decided to revert the school from an eight-period block schedule back to a seven-period schedule by 2014-15, according to a March 20 letter from community superintendent Bronda L. Mills.

The eight-period schedule began in the school about 2007 when it was struggling with low academic performance and discipline issues. It boosted academic progress by shifting the culture at the school, said Margy O’Herron, one of the parents leading the charge.

In a seven-period schedule, students attend seven classes each day. In an eight-period schedule, students’ daily schedule alternates between two four-period days.

The eighth period allows students to take another elective, such as band or foreign language, or take a remedial period of math or English, O’Herron said.

Since the change was made, student performance has increased, and suspension rates have decreased.

But the school’s past and current principal say the progress made has more to do with the staff’s leadership, dedication and training, and less to do with the eight-period schedule.

Principal John Haas said he hopes parents will come around during the transition year next year, when he will be working with parents to finalize course options moving forward. Just because the schedule is changing doesn’t mean the quality of instructional time and the special programs at the school will, he said.

“We’re trying to focus on how do we create the best schedule within the instructional minutes we have and provide the best instruction to students,” he said.

So far, Haas has not been able to get through to parents.

A crowd of students and parents picketed in front of the Silver Spring school before school Tuesday on the corner of Wayne and Dale drives.

Their signs read “It’s not too late to save the 8,” and “Guarda el 8!”

O’Herron and other parents say they feel slighted, as a few parents sat in on the first study group that considered the schedule change, and then their preference — to keep the current schedule — was overruled by school and school system administration.

Parents have appealed the school system’s decision.

Of the county’s 38 middle schools, six have an eight-period schedule, schools spokesman Dana Tofig said.

The eight-period schedule is something a school has to commit to, as it requires either extra staffing or a commitment from teachers to teach six out of eight periods, said Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association, the county’s teachers union.

Silver Spring International teachers had committed to the schedule under past principal Vicki Lake-Parcan, who was brought in to boost the school’s performance on state tests. The school had failed to meet required performance measures set out by the state for two years at that time, she said.

Because it was under what was called “corrective action,” the school was given extra resources to make changes, she said.

The schedule was brought under review this year because teachers wanted more instructional time and more effective time with students, Prouty said.

With 80-minute periods every other day, in 10 days students spend 400 minutes in each of their classes, Prouty said. With 45-minute periods every day, in 10 days students spend 450 minutes in each of their classes, he said.

Teachers, especially in courses such as math, wanted to be in front of their students every day, he said.

Lake-Parcan said she believes the school can succeed without the eight-period scheduling, with strong leadership and staff.

“It is just a strategy, or one little pebble in the whole mix of what needs to happen in a school,” she said.

She brought it to Silver Spring International because she saw the need for an overall culture change at the school.

Since the 2003-2004 school year, the school’s state test scores have risen from much below the county middle school average to similar or higher; the school has increased the percentage of students passing Algebra I by eighth grade by 43 percentage points, to 75.5 percent, higher than the county’s average of 62.1 percent; and the suspension rate has fallen from 16.3 percent to 6.7 percent.

O’Herron and other parents claim the schedule has helped the school close achievement gaps among races.

But although the school’s black and Hispanic students are doing better than those countywide in some areas, they still lag behind the school’s white students at the school when it comes to both algebra passing rates and state test scores.

When Lake-Parcan left the school a few years ago to go to Neelsville Middle School to help improve test scores there, she brought the eight-period schedule there, too.

“Not because it is the magic bullet, but because it allows us to build the capacity of our teachers to do what needs to be done for the kids,” she said.

Parents want to ensure that the programming their students have enjoyed at the school will be there for future students, said Cori Vanchieri, who has an eighth-grader at the school and a fifth-grader that will attend the school next year.

Her daughter in eighth grade has benefited from the French immersion program, she said.

“The kids aren’t going to have the opportunity to be in class where they get to be creative,” she said.

Haas and Prouty both said that next year, the school will try to find a way to keep the programs that are important to parents.

“My charge here is to collect the pieces,” Haas said. “To get the pieces back together and rebuild.”

jbondeson@gazette.net