When the decision was announced that Eastern Middle School would be moving from an eight period block schedule to a seven period schedule, most parents in the school community were caught off-guard. It seems like a rather mundane detail given all of the elements that go into making a school a school. But it’s not. And at Eastern the decision has far reaching impact because it houses the county’s Humanities and Communication Arts Magnet, drawing students from as far as Olney and Bethesda. In my opinion this situation speaks to MCPS’s commitment to the “continuum of services” (as it likes to call it these days) as well as its true commitment to (to use another one of their odious locutions) “stakeholder engagement.”
Happily–after they got over the initial shock of how the decision was reached and the implications–a group of parents has mobilized to argue against the switch. (Additional links here and here and here and here.) Yesterday they issued the following statement, in preparation for a meeting that will take place this evening with school officials.
We the undersigned recognize that the teachers at EMS are not being fairly compensated, but the straight 7 period with an after school option is not really an option:
- It would require students to take an academic class after completing a full school day which would not provide them an equal opportunity to learn that material.
- It would require many students, especially magnet students who travel far, to endure longer than 11-hour school days three days a week. With homework, these students would not have time for anything but school and homework at least on those days and would not even have time for sufficient rest.
- It does not adequately address the damage to integration efforts between magnet and attendance area students at EMS (one of the goals of a magnet) that will be caused by the schedule change and loss of standard hours electives.
- It would preclude students from participating in any EMS extracurricular opportunities.
- It does not address the needs of students who need math or foreign language classes at Blair, which is on a block schedule.
- It is contrary to the only educational justification that has been put forward in support of the seven period day: daily classes of a length that can be handled by middle school students. No one has suggested that there is any research supporting a three day on, four day off schedule as educationally beneficial for middle school students.
- MCPS knows this is not a real option because it is only planning to offer one or two classes in the after school period plainly insufficient for the number of students affected.
The after school schedule is the latest example of MCPS taking action without obtaining meaningful parental input or addressing the needs of the students.
- Limited parental input in the multi-stakeholder committee was unanimously in favor of the 8 period schedule.
- Parents of incoming humanities sixth grade students were not informed of the seven period day until AFTER they were required to accept their invitations to Eastern and after they had turned down other options that are no longer available to them.
- The after school schedule was conceived without any meaningful input from parents.
- The principal has stated that alternatives other than the after school schedule will not be discussed or entertained including a seven period block schedule most previously used at EMS (and like that used at other MCPS middle schools) or the 5/8 block used in the magnet consortium.
- The input sought from parents now is not adequate to gauge parental concerns and level of interest in other options.
- The after school schedule (and the departure from an 8 period block) does not address the beneficial reasons that the 8 period block was originally started, as stated by the previous principal in his letter to parents at the time (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/easternptsa/message/668).
The fair and educationally justifiable option is to maintain the eight
period schedule while fairly compensating teachers. We therefore ask that MCPS either:
- Fund EMS to pursue a 5 of 8 schedule; or
- Pay those teachers who are required to teach 6 of 8 classes additional monies to compensate them for that additional work; or
- Delay implementation of the seven period day until the 2012-13 school year so that students who elected the Humanities program in its present format can continue in that format through completion of middle school. Allow teachers who wish to transfer to transfer elsewhere in MCPS.
The 80+ Members of the EMS Schedule Decision Reversal Workgroup,
including (in alphabetical order):
Sarah Lindsey Holmes