When the best change is no change

District 90 opts to cut class size for math rather than reshaping school schedule

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By Lacey Sikora 'Connects'

Contributing Reporter

Last year, River Forest's District 90 schools proposed changing the traditional schedule of the school day at Roosevelt Middle School to add more time for math instruction. Principal Larry Garstki said the proposal was due in large part to changing math standards with the Common Core curriculum, noting that with so many standards, it was a struggle to cover all the required areas. He says, "We adopted the CMP3 math curriculum a few years ago, and that probably forced the conversation."

Roosevelt School is at 7560 Oak Ave., River Forest.

The district discussed changing from a traditional schedule, in which each academic class meets for a set amount of time each day, to a block schedule in which fewer classes meet for longer periods of time each day, and classes change quarterly. Garstki said a typical traditional middle school day consists of eight periods per day, while a block schedule would include four or five classes per day.

At District 90, adding a proposed 15 minutes to math classes in the traditional schedule would have required taking time away from another class and would have wreaked havoc on the school's ability to coordinate schedules, as not all children are in math at the same time. Moving to a block schedule would have resulted in fifth graders receiving one-third of a year of foreign language instruction instead of the two-thirds they currently receive. Sixth, seventh and eighth-graders would have gone from eight total quarters of foreign language instruction to six.

Parents expressed concerns and frustrations about the changes at numerous meetings with the district, and the district surveyed parents about the perceived benefits and downsides to the Master Schedule Change. Chief among the concerns was reduced time for foreign language instruction, as well as increased need for professional development to prepare teachers for a large-scale schedule change. 

Roosevelt parent Emily Paster was one of those parents voicing her concern about the proposed schedule changes. While she is familiar with the block schedule concept and sees how it functions well in other districts, her primary concern was the elimination of daily language instruction for seventh and eighth graders. 

"Foreign language needs to be covered consistently for the best results," she says and notes that taking a quarter off would not be beneficial to students. She says the current world of globalization requires students to be more proficient in foreign languages, and she was concerned that students from Roosevelt would struggle to transition to foreign language courses at Oak Park and River Forest High School under the new standards.

Garstki says that after looking at all the options, one thing was clear. "Although we considered making changes to the schedule, we realized it would negatively affect other areas. There wasn't a compelling reason we needed to make the changes, and lots of other things we have here are doing very well."

Roosevelt teachers already have been hard at work on meeting the new math standards according to Garstki, and the district determined it made more sense to provide more support to teachers and students in math without changing the schedule of classes. 

Instead, Roosevelt will add two math teachers to bring down the size of math classes and will also offer an option tentatively called A.M. Academy, in which students who might have more significant needs can come in before school to work with math teachers.

Garstki says of the changes, "Class size in middle school math fluctuates, but adding two more teachers will reduce class size by 20 to 30 percent. Two additional teachers means a lot at a small school."

Paster says she and other community parents weren't dismissive of the district's concerns about math but says there wasn't a strong argument for something as drastic as the Master Schedule Switch. She says she is relieved to hear about the decision. 

Garstki sums it up, "It's the best solution to the alternative of making widespread changes to other areas that are going well."

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