Wilton middle school looks at reorganizing the school day

WILTON — While educators stressed it was too early to share any substantial details, staff at Middlebrook Middle School have embarked on an in-depth look at changing the school schedule over the next year.

Principal Lauren Feltz and four of her staff members gave a presentation to the Board of Education on Feb. 20 about the work underway at the school.

“As you know, this is something we’ve been talking about for years,” said Janet Nobles, music teacher.

Originally begun with the purpose of examining ways to improve math performance through a revised schedule — in particular looking at hours needed for instruction — the work has expanded to include a designated committee of staff, parents and other representatives who are meeting every Tuesday to talk about potentially broad changes aimed at fostering overall improvements.

“It’s a really charged issue, as you could imagine,” explained Feltz, noting none of the staff wants to see time lost in their particular area of student instruction.

Yet as trends continue to evolve toward bringing more than one discipline area into a given segment of instruction, the possibilities for unifying changes are being examined.

“There’s a huge passion in our school for trans-disciplinary work,” said Patty Metz, special education teacher.

Toward that end, school board member Glenn Hemmerle asked the presenters whether the traditional team model was still the most effective mode of teaching at the middle school.

“I don’t think there’s a teacher at Middlebrook that wouldn’t tell you teaming isn’t at the heart of what they do,” Nobles said.

As they’ve begun to seek feedback from other districts from throughout the tri-state area regarding scheduling practices, Feltz noted that all the schools they’ve approached likewise use the team model.

“All the experts in the field will tell you developmentally it’s the right thing,” she said.

However, big questions remain regarding the right amount of time to be focusing on particular instruction, as well as the most creative and impactful ways to do it.

“We’re trying to think as flexibly as we can,” Feltz said. “Do all grade levels need to work the same?” is among the questions being examined.

“Are there things that we’re offering that don’t align with our values and our mission?” she asked, adding that every new addition takes away time from the school day.

Feltz said that sometimes a content-heavy educational approach could come to feel like putting “10 pounds of learning into a five-pound bag.”

As they’ve begun examining core and special area curriculum needs, the intention is to also look at more ephemeral aspects of education, such as social and emotional learning in relation to scheduling.

“It doesn’t mean that everything is going to change,” Feltz said, but the committee — starting with a blank slate — is entertaining the idea of just what the school’s schedule would look like were they to be starting the school anew.

With their journey into creative contemplation, however, the school’s team members and school officials also expressed trepidation with regard to parents misunderstanding their intent and jumping to conclusions about imminent changes.

“In the future we hope to solicit feedback from the parents via surveys,” said Mike McLachlan, writing workshop teacher.

At this time, however, staff doesn’t feel they have anything tangible to ask them about, and want to get some models together before they do.

“I’m not sure what point we’re going to have things for parents to respond to,” Feltz said, though the hope is to make a recommendation to the Board of Education by May for implementation of a new schedule the following 2021-22 school year.

“We don’t want to rush it,” Feltz said.

She noted that ultimately there would not be unanimous consensus on the changes among staff and the community, and that the decisions would have to be made at an administrative level.

She said, however, she would welcome feedback and conversation, particularly as it would help people from getting “caught up in the rumor mill.”

“People don’t know what’s going on. People start talking,” confirmed board member Jennifer Lalor. “It just goes the wrong way.”

“We welcome the conversation,” Feltz said. She may be emailed at feltzl@wiltonps.org.