On December 12 a meeting was held at Cranston High School West in the auditorium for those who attend Western Hills Middle School and Hope Highlands Middle School. Just over 80 people were in attendance. The presentation was put on by WHMS Principal Tim Vesey and HHMS Principal Alex Kanelo. HHMS Assistant Principal Katrina Pillay was also on hand to answer questions throughout the evening.
The administrators stated that this meeting was one of several to come as an opportunity to present parents with initial information as soon as possible, with the discussion of scheduling beginning much earlier in the school year than usual.
“There will be more opportunities to review this information into the spring and summer months,” said Kanelos. “We are trying to be totally transparent, giving you the information we have so far.”
The administrators showed a power point presentation that described the entire process, which began in February 2017 as a scheduling committee was created, encompassing equal representation from teachers and administrators, as well as the union and the central administration.
“The goal was always ‘what’s best for kids,’” said Kanelos. “We wanted flexibility to pursue new opportunities for students. We wanted to be able to expose them to lots of things in the community, to have student engagement and empowerment. The committee surveyed students, looked at research and data of best practices and explored what other districts were doing. It was a comprehensive task and a lot of work has been done. It’s important to realize though, there is never a perfect situation, there is always give and take, always compromise, and you can always find data that is for or against a particular type of schedule.”
Kanelos spoke about looking ahead to the middle school students’ opportunities that will come in high school, and particularly for those who apply for are accepted to and of the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center’s (CACTC) competitive career and technical programs. According to Kanelos, one goal of the new schedule is to provide middle school students with more choices to explore different career pathways and elective-type classes which will better prepare them for high school experiences such as CACTC, internships and the like.
“Personalized learning is a key ingredient in this,” Kanelos said. “We are already using a blended learning model across the district, utilizing project based learning and participating in inquiry projects. This type of schedule is more conducive to these types of initiatives.”
The administrators stated that all core academic departments and all unified arts departments are creating “pathways” courses, exploratory, elective classes that students will be able to apply to their schedules next year based on their interests. Although the courses are nicknamed “pathways” courses, they are not related to the CACTC pathways programs in any way, and taking these “pathways” courses in middle school do not connect to taking a pathways program in high school.
According to the presentation, next year’s schedule will be on a ten day rotation, organized in a Week One and Week Two layout. Every other day, students will have their Tech Ed, Physical Education/Health, and World Language classes, or if they’re sixth-graders, they’ll have the Readers-Writers Workshop that was started this year.
Starting next year, the middle school Physical Education classes will take place during three of the quarters of the school year and Health classes will take place in that slot during one quarter of the year, just as it is in high school.
General Music will take place every other day, all semester while those students in Band, Chorus and Orchestra classes will have their instructional time every other day. Ensemble classes will go on all year long during a “pathways” slot. General Music will switch with Art at the semester break. Ensemble classes will be split between grade six and grades seven and eight next year.
It was noted that those students who take Band, Chorus or Orchestra will utilize one of their “pathways” blocks for their Ensemble class each semester, which will leave two other “pathways” blocks for other elective courses, versus four slots a year for those who take General Music.
The pathways slots will be the same every day during the lunch block and will be graded courses, aligned to 21st Century Learning Skills and proficiency skills. A list of those classes is not yet available, as they have not all been created yet. However, it was noted that they will be offered in all areas and it is the hope that they will appeal to a wide variety of student interests. Examples were given, such as classes in the humanities, science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics, and physical education.
“The ten day schedule makes it easier for flexible scheduling because classes meet five times over a ten day period, either on Tuesday and Thursday one week or Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the other week,” said Kanelos. “Every student will have their core classes (English/Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies) every day, during periods one through four, all year long.”
Next year, the Advisory block, which currently takes places for a few minutes once a week, will be a full class on a Friday, allowing for actual Advisory curriculum and activities to take place.
“Right now it’s a 15 minute block and it’s challenging to get anything accomplished,” said Kanelos, who noted that career exploration, goal setting and other such topics can now be done more in depth during that block of time each Friday.”
Vesey explained that the new schedule would give students new choices each semester.
“It’s really the best of both worlds, it gives children what they like and what they need,” he said. “The best part is that it’s a ten day schedule, so everything fits nicely.”
According to the administrators, there would still be three lunches per day, as there are now. Classes will last the same amount of time per day as now, and arrival and dismissal times will not be changing. Grades will still be given out quarterly. The four core classes will rotate each day so that they are not always taking place at the same time.
At the end of the presentation there was an opportunity for parents to raise concerns and ask questions. Concerns were raised about the PE/Health change, which although aligns to the high school model, could potentially leave students inactive for an entire quarter of the school year, as in the high school model. However, it was noted by the administrators that physical activity can be incorporated into the health classes, and that there will also be pathways electives available for students to take in the area of physical education as well. It was also noted that generally speaking, the middle school model incorporates a great deal of movement throughout the day, more so than the elementary model.
Another concern raised was the fact that the “pathways” blocks would be used for intervention blocks in the areas of numeracy and literacy if students qualified for the interventions. Parents raised concerns about the students missing out on the elective classes, while placed into the intervention classes.
“According to the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), if students are more than one grade level behind in numeracy or literacy, schools are required to provide an intervention for them,” said Vesey. “A student could potentially be in numeracy and literacy interventions at the same time, but as it stands now, if in September a student is placed into an intervention class, they are locked into that intervention for the entire year because there is no place to go other than into a world language, and you can’t start up in a language partway through the year.”
As the meeting wrapped up, parents were encouraged to be on the lookout for meetings in the coming months as more details get ironed out. They were assured that major decisions would not be made regarding pathways course choices for students without parent input.
However, Vesey also reminded the parents that their students are flexible and will easily adhere to the new schedule next school year, possibly more so than the adults.
“Kids are amazing. Within the third day they’ve got it down, and they’ll get it down next year too,” he said. “At the start of the year we’ll ease in slowly and make sure that all the kids get it.”