Parents of Niskayuna middle-school students are upset with a new schedule that eliminates flexible periods and time for student advocacy.
The district reduced the number of periods this year from nine to eight and eliminated a flexible period and a half-hour at the end of the day for student advocacy. Students used these times to meet guidance counselors, see teachers for extra help and complete homework.
Teachers came out in force Tuesday to a community forum about the middle schools, urging the district to reinstate those times.
“In the past, students used these extended learning times to keep up with their subjects,” said Iroquois Middle School math teacher Randy Roeser.
Losing this extra time has meant that students aren’t able to get as much extra help, make up missed work or participate in academic enrichment activities, according to Roeser. Increased state testing and other activities that used to be done in these flexible periods are now cutting into instructional time, he added.
Counselor Pam Hartman said these periods were helpful for eighth-graders in the process of determining what high school courses they wanted to take.
Iroquois social studies teacher Dennis Frank said the faculty didn’t have input into the decision to eliminate those periods.
“Our desire is to be truly part of the process, actively engaged in discussion with the board and administration and simply to feel included and valued for our professional opinions,” he said.
Parent Nancy Carmello said she has noticed that students seem to be more stressed without that extra time in their schedule.
“They’re getting their work done, but they’re staying up ‘til 10 o’clock at night and getting up early,” she said.
Another parent, Cathy Forth, said she believes sixth-graders need time to adjust to middle school and some students need extra help.
Some parents wondered if the periods could be reinstated in the second semester. The board said it would consider it.
“Whether that can be done this year, we recognize the need for time,” said board President Deb Oriola.
The decision to eliminate “flex” and advocacy came as a result of a consultant’s report on improving the middle school. It said those times weren’t being used effectively and consistently.
Other recommendations in the report being considered are implementation of project-based learning, in which students participate in projects that cut across subjects; offering more accelerated courses in the middle school; scheduling music ensemble rehearsals within the school day; and having consistent levels of homework and academic expectations among the middle-school teams.
Residents split into groups for discussion of these issues. Parents liked the idea of middle-schoolers taking high-school classes. Right now, acceleration is only offered for math and foreign languages. Van Antwerp Principal Luke Rakoczy said science would be a natural candidate for acceleration.
Adding music within the school day is another priority. Right now, students in music ensembles rehearse at the high school before the start of their middle-school day. Some parents say it creates too long of a day.
“It can be very stressful, and they can be anxiety-ridden because of it,” said parent Karen Sitterly.
There are three more meetings scheduled to discuss improvements to the middle school. On Tuesday, the board will discuss feedback it has received from the community so far. On Oct. 16, there will be another forum to discuss middle-school configuration — whether to have one or two middle schools or create themes in each middle school.
The board will discuss its conclusions on Nov. 6.
All meetings will take place in the Van Antwerp Middle School auditorium and start at 6:30 p.m.