The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, January 14, 2005


New middle school format recommended for sixth grade

The Carlisle parents attending the December 15 Carlisle School Committee meeting reacted positively to a new middle school plan developed by the Middle School Task Force. The goal of the task force was to develop a plan to support the needs of next year's sixth grade class. The task force consists of ten Carlisle School teachers and administrators.

School Committee member David Dockterman began by explaining that each current grade level of the middle school is split into four groups, and the students attend four core classes (math, social studies, language arts, and science) each day. Additionally the students take world language, art, music, health, and physical education. This model is known as the "4-4" model. While this model has worked for average-sized grade populations of around 80, the incoming sixth-grade class will be over 118 students. Average class sizes would be around 29.5 students, which the task force felt would have "a negative impact on student learning." Through the research, Carlisle School Superintendent Marie Doyle explained, they learned many schools have smaller middle school teams, or "small schools within the schools."

Recommended model

The task force reviewed middle school models in Concord, Harvard, Newton, and Wellesley. Four possible new ways to restructure the schedule for the sixth grade were documented. The task force is recommending a "6-5" plan. The teachers would be split into two teams of three. Each teacher would be responsible for teaching one core class (example: math, science or language arts) and one "shared" class (example: social studies). Average class sizes would be reduced to 19.5 students, which would allow teachers more opportunities to build relationships with the students.

All teachers would take a turn at teaching the "shared" class. Sixth grade language arts teacher Carolyn Platt commented that she would enjoy teaching social studies. "We are really committed to this class coming up and want to do the best by them," she added.

Concerned with short-changing social studies, Carlisle parent Seema Peterson objected, "We don't want geeks with slide rules. Don't ignore social studies." Parent Dale Ryder asked how the sixth-grade teams would be formed. "They would be completely balanced," answered Doyle, saying that she and Goodwin would oversee the development of the teams.

Effect on budget

The increase from four to six teachers will be partially offset by the "staff exchanges" expected next year (teachers moving from one position to another). An additional 0.5 teaching position would be needed in World Language to keep the class sizes lower. Classroom space would also become a more pressing issue than it already is, explained Doyle. Temporary modular classrooms may have to be considered. The proposed FY06 budget calls for an increase of $118,974 to fund the new middle school model. "If there is no override, what will we do?" asked Fitzgerald. "Good question," replied Doyle.

New language explored

Carlisle parent and FinCom member Jim Fitzsimmons wondered if the "World Languages" would still be Spanish and French. "Will you add Chinese and drop French? It would be good to teach what kids need: English, Spanish, and Chinese." Doyle appreciated the suggestion of adding Chinese. "You are on the cutting edge," she commented. "What is the breakdown of students taking Spanish and French?" asked Carlisle parent Beth Clarke. The split for the current middle school students is 50/50.

If Chinese were added as a world language, Barbee reminded, Carlisle students would be entering Concord-Carlisle High School needing a higher level class in their freshman year. CCHS currently offers only first-year Chinese at the freshman level.

What happens in seventh grade?

When the sixth-grade class transitions to seventh grade, the current plan is to revert back to the "4-4" model. "It's risky to undertake just a one year intervention," commented committee member Christy Barbee, saying she felt the new model should continue in seventh grade. Committee Chair Nicole Burkel suggested the format should be reviewed at the end of FY06, which will allow a decision to be made at that time.

"This group had problems earlier, and it needed intervention earlier," pointed out committee member Michael Fitzgerald. "We should have identified problems before the MCAS results." Carlisle Principal Steve Goodwin agreed. "We're embarrassed that it took the MCAS to point out the problem." Four years ago, he explained, the staff held a meeting and discussed the problems with the class. "We should have acted at that time."

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito