By ERIN ROLL
Glenfield Middle School may be moving to a schedule with longer, fewer periods next year, a move that district officials claim will give students more time to spend on academic courses. But parents claim the move will take time away from the arts program that the school is known for.
Parents launched a petition last week asking officials to rethink the schedule change, contending the move will have negative consequences for the arts program at Glenfield.
At press time, the petition had 503 signatures.
District officials said the change to longer class periods is state-mandated and did not provide adequate time in the core classes to meet the academic needs of all students.
Instead of seven 40-minute classes, the schedule will change to four 80-minute classes.
Students can still attend multi-graded classes such as orchestra, musical production, robotics, science Olympiad, and some of the world language courses which will meet in extended periods.
Elective courses and physical education/dance will meet every other day. As in the past, electives will be offered full -year, semester, or quarterly. Students will choose their electives based on their interests. Dance will still be available as an alternative to PE, and will meet every other day just like the PE classes.
There will be a musical production along with the winter and spring orchestra concerts, dance concerts and the annual Arts Festival, along with the many other arts and performance pieces showcased throughout the year, according to a briefing document provided to parents.
But with fewer periods, students and parents worry that arts classes would be pushed to after-school hours. That, students said, would make the arts program less robust, and restrict access only to students whose families could afford after-school transportation, said Gina Shaw, one of the authors of the petition.
And for children from lower-income families, she said, the arts programs at Glenfield may be the only opportunity they might have to take music, dance or art classes.
Superintendent Kendra Johnson said it was her understanding that arts classes would occur during the day, but performance rehearsals would occur after school.
Both of Montclair’s other two middle schools already operate on block schedules.
Buzz Aldrin, with its STEM concentration, schedules 80-minute periods, while Renaissance, with its rounded out curriculum, offers a combination of 40- and 60-minute blocks. Next year, Renaissance is shifting to 60-minute periods only for next year.
The document states that the current schedule “leads to too much disruption, and provides too many opportunities for disciplinary problems.”
The state requires 150 minutes of physical education time each week for all students, according to DOE officials. In other core courses, such as English language arts, the state recommends 80 minutes of uninterrupted instruction time for middle school students each day.
Parents also criticized the district for considering the schedule change at a time when principal Cheryl Hopper, the fourth principal at the school in a year, is preparing to step down.
“We now have an announcement of major schedule changes that appear likely to seriously disrupt Glenfield’s Visual and Performing Arts magnet theme as well as make significant changes to the teaching of Glenfield’s core classes, but without consistent — or even named — leadership to champion those changes to successful implementation,” the petition reads.
At the June 17 Board of Education meeting, Johnson said the changes were being made due to recommendations by a consultant hired in November. Glenfield school administrators requested that a block schedule be explored, she said.
Schedule changes were discussed at five PTA meetings. Parents were notified in a letter from the district in June. The letter claimed that students are not getting enough class time in core academic subjects and in physical education, and that the change is state-mandated and therefore “not negotiable.”
“The bottom line is that the current schedule is not meeting the academic needs of our students and the requirements set by the NJ Department of Education,” read the letter to parents. “It is imperative that student contact time in the academic core subjects is increased and that the required minutes for PE are met. We have greatly appreciated and taken into consideration the feedback from our families and staff on so many fronts.”
However, parents at the BOE meeting stated that the requirements referred to in the letter were not mandatory, but recommended guidelines.
Gina Shaw, one of the authors of the petition, chose Glenfield for her daughter because it offered a “well-rounded education,” with its arts programs being as essential to the school as other subjects as English and math.
For several months, she said, students have been coming home with rumors that certain classes, like play production, would either be cut from the schedule or moved to after school hours.
Glenfield social studies teacher Daniel Gill confirmed that even the staff is lacking details of the schedule change.
Parent Holly Shaw said growing up, her family struggled to make ends meet. The schools she attended provided her with the opportunity to participate in arts programs.
She urged the board to think of what changing the schedule would mean for kids from low-income families. “What about the kids like me, who had to work after school, or watch their siblings, or didn’t have a way to get home?” she asked.
Cynthia Leigh Helm’s daughter participates in the orchestra and the jazz band at Glenfield. A recent performance included a selection from “Carmina Burana.”
“You don’t get this kind of performance from a casual after-school activity,” she said.
The petition noted that Glenfield has been through multiple changes in leadership in recent years, and that it would be unwise to have a major change in schedule before a new principal had a chance to settle in.
The petition calls for a principal search committee to be formed, with membership from among a cross-section of the school’s parents.