Feedback on changes positive

Most seem pleased with new schedule at middle school

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— Six months into the school year, teachers and staff members at Steamboat Springs Middle School are generally pleased with the school's new flexible schedule.

The schedule was implemented as part of an effort to move away from a traditional junior high school schedule with seven or eight 45-minute periods, when the clock, not the curriculum, controls classes, Assistant Principal Jerry Buelter said.

With the new flexible schedule, students at each grade level have about four hours of core classes -- English, social studies, math and science -- every day.

But instead of having a set time for each subject, teams of teachers are able to plan together and have varying class lengths depending on lessons.

For example, if a science teacher wants his or her class to work on a two-hour experiment, the teacher will plan with his or her team of teachers to have a longer class period.

"Teachers divvy up the time," Buelter said. "The curriculum dictates the time, the time doesn't dictate the curriculum."

Blocks of the school day are budgeted for "encore classes," too.

Encore classes, which cover topics such as physical education, art, music, industrial arts and computer skills, introduce students to subjects they may not have been interested in previously, Buelter said.

Thursday night's middle school concert -- where plenty of boys were among the singing ranks -- was a perfect example, he said.

"Boys are actually saying, 'Hey, I might do choir when I get to high school,'" he said. "We have girls using power tools in industrial arts and boys singing in choir. It's pretty cool."

The focus period of the school day is an extra hour that can be used for a variety of things. The band and clubs meet, special-needs students have additional contact time with teachers and rehearsals for the middle school's upcoming musical, "Annie," take place.

Also under the new schedule, the lunch period was shortened from 45 minutes to 30 minutes, and one grade's lunch doesn't begin until the previous grade's ends, which wasn't always the case.

"It was very chaotic," Buelter said of the old lunch schedule. "Let me tell you, (the new schedule) has made a difference."

And between the 15 extra minutes picked up from a shorter lunch period and less time needed for kids to move in between classes, an extra hour of time is available for academic work.

For the most part, feedback from teachers has been positive, Buelter said.

A few kinks still need to be worked out, but as teachers and staff become more comfortable with the schedule, its benefits will continue to present themselves, Buelter said.

"Overwhelmingly, people feel good about it," he said. "We just don't have it down to the point we'd like it."

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