District 194 plans change starting sixth grade next year
Lakeville Area School District 194 middle school principals reviewed a redesign proposal that would add 18.7 full-time equivalent positions for $1.68 million and begin expanding educational opportunities next year for district students in grades 6-8.
Middle school principals Kate Eisenthal and Joshua Alexander presented the proposal to the School Board at its Feb. 21 study session. The plan was created by the Middle School Redesign Committee.
The principals suggested paying for the middle school redesign from the General Fund to ensure program stability instead of a levy renewal/referendum as had been previously discussed.
Under the proposal, middle school would switch to an eight-period flexible schedule, allowing teachers more flexibility and time to collaborate, and there would be smaller class sizes to help address students’ social-emotional needs.
Programming would include explorer classes and electives. Explorer classes are mandated and reflect material teachers feel is important for students and electives are classes students can choose to take based on their interests.
To help define possible class offerings, middle school students and parents were surveyed.
Both groups highly rated graphic arts and world language, particularly Spanish.
Some of the students’ highest-rated classes were art, family and consumer science and tech education, like welding or woods.
Families surveyed indicated preference for classes like computer technology, choir, computer coding, multi-media and introductory technology courses.
The proposal does not fully add Project Lead the Way, the preferred STEM programming for grades 6-8, but begins toward that goal next fall by enhancing sixth-grade physical science with STEM topics of measurement, matter and heat and temperature.
Board Member Bob Erickson questioned the plan because it starts with STEM in sixth grade, then eventually infuses the programming into the other grades. He questioned if more STEM opportunities could be found.
Eisenthal said STEM is currently in the elementary schools, and they wanted to keep those grades exposed to the science, technology, engineering and math programming then building it up with those grades.
Alexander said they could ask the committee, which includes eighth-grade science teachers, if there are ways they could expand STEM programming into areas of seventh- and eighth-grade classes next year.
“We can see what solutions may be,” he said.
Board Chair Michelle Volk noted that while that would expand the opportunities to other grades, it also means more grade levels are sharing limited resources.
She also questioned whether the district could avoid the costs associated with implementing Project Lead the Way and use the savings that would be realized to fund staff to implement STEM into the middle school programming.
Alexander said it does not appear to be possible because the program includes multiple engineering modules that include computer programming, graphic design, design-build and making projects from a design-build stage.
“You’re getting into a lot more than what our science teachers would go into,” Alexander said.
Board Member Terry Lind added that any money saved from not implementing PLTW could not be used for staffing anyway, since the funds associated with implementing STEM programming are from he capital levy and can only fund products, not personnel.
Emily McDonald, executive director of teaching and learning, said professional development is also needed so teachers can feel comfortable integrating STEM into courses,
“The teachers that are on that STEM Planning Committee currently for sixth grade have done a phenomenal job of looking at potential resources and things they can utilize to at least start embedding those principles into what they’re already teaching,” McDonald said.
Board Member Judy Keliher called the Middle School Redesign Committee’s work “fabulous,” stating it puts the middle level to where it should be.
“I’m really excited about this,” Lind said.
Board Member Jim Skelly said it is important that the district align its STEM programming between grade levels.
“We’ve got K-5 STEAM and we’ve got STEM options at the high school,” Skelly said. “But we’ve got this donut hole in the middle school that doesn’t have the programming. So essentially what we’re doing here is aligning this STEM programming into the system on both sides of the middle school.”
The district has budgeted $152,000 for STEM programming next year, according to the district.
Board members requested cost estimates for Project Lead the Way to be provided before their five-year planning meeting to be held in two weeks.