(Editor’s note: This story was posted originally at 11:45 a.m. Thursday. Superintendent Rachel Boechler pointed out a series of inaccuracies regarding the flex period and the article has been adjusted to reflect changes.)
Bayside Middle School students are not receiving enough mathematics education to meet state recommendations, and this should be changed, even if that leaves less time in the school day for electives, the Fox Point-Bayside School Board decided Monday.
The board approved plans to create a new middle school curricular program that would include extending the amount of time spent on mathematics instruction and building in a flex period for student support and extension.
The particulars of how the extra time will be worked into the school day will be hashed out by administrators. The administrative goal is to increase math education from 45 to as many as 60 minutes daily and create a 30-minute flex period.
Superintendent Rachel Boechler said the extra time would not come from core academic classes but likely from what are considered "encore" classes — courses on such things as music, band, art, creative writing, and data. However, she said band and art classes take a lot of set-up time and might not be affected. The details are still being worked out; the board approved the increases but did not require a specific amount, she said.
The additional math instruction would be implemented to boost the middle school up to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s recommended daily mathematics instruction time, according to Jennifer Ganske, the district's director of Teaching, Learning and Assessment.
Bayside Middle School falls 15 minutes below the recommended 60 daily minutes. While 15 minutes may seem like a fraction of time, the daily loss adds up to 300 minutes, or five hours, throughout a one-month period.
A new addition to the curriculum, the 30-minute flex period, would allow students more exploratory options to choose from. Flex time would range from special attention to areas of weakness to working on advanced projects or coursework, officials said.
Where does the time come from?
One concern, however, is where the district would find the extra time needed to implement these changes. In a six-hour school day, finding a place for an extra 45 minutes of student enrichment can be quite the task. The additional math time and implementation of a flex period would require the equivalent of one whole class period in the school’s current curriculum.
The Middle School Program Committee, which drafted the proposal and consists of Ganske, the middle school principal and parent, school board and teacher representatives has discussed the topic in previous meetings.
Ganske said the Flex period would probably be implemented in lieu of study hall. Even so, this still leaves 15 minutes unaccounted for. As a result of the math and flex time, says Ganske, there would be less time to devote to elective, or encore, classes.
Cutting class time in a curriculum with what Boechler calls “class periods crunched as it is” might compromise the value of the encore classes. The board notes that many elective classes, like band or art, require a decent amount of “set-up” that make an already short class even shorter.
The school board also discussed whether or not simply increasing the time spent on mathematics would help improve students' abilities. “More of the same thing isn’t necessarily better,” said board member Eliz Greene. Instruction must change to some degree to keep students' attention for longer periods of time.
The board hopes to have a clear idea of what is possible within the constraints of a school day by February.
— Story by Marley Flueger