Archive for Thursday, June 20, 1991

TEACHERS DEBATE MOVING NINTH-GRADERS

June 20, 1991

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More than a dozen Lawrence teachers and principals shared their views Wednesday on the advisability of moving Lawrence ninth-graders to the high school level and creating middle schools for grades seven and eight.

The teachers spoke at the invitation of the Commission on Mid-Level and High School Education, which presently is discussing whether the district should switch from three-year junior high schools to two-year middle schools.

Of those teachers and principals who expressed a definite view on the matter, all speakers from West Junior High School were opposed to the change, and all speakers from South Junior High School favored the change. Teachers from Central Junior High School did not appear before the commission.

EILENE LAWRENCE, who teaches social studies at West, agreed with proponents of middle schools that ninth-graders are different from seventh- and eighth-graders. Lawrence said the fact that ninth-graders are more mature is one argument for keeping them at the junior high school.

"Gradually, seventh-graders begin to ape those characteristics" displayed by the ninth-graders, Lawrence said.

She also questioned whether ninth-graders, whose curriculum requirements are regulated strictly by the state, needed to be moved to allow for more flexible scheduling for seventh- and eighth-graders.

A common component of middle schools is for a core of teachers to share the same group of seventh- or eighth-grade students, thus allowing teachers to discuss students' needs and to help integrate the curriculum.

"We have been able to play with our schedule to a great extent," Lawrence said. "Being flexible does not require a middle school. Being flexible requires brainpower and a lot of teacher input."

DIANE LOW, an English teacher at South, said the school's seventh-grade English and geography teachers will be denied a common planning time next school year precisely because ninth-graders are in the school. That's because many ninth-graders would have scheduling problems if those instructors, who also teach grades eight and nine, all had planning periods during the same hour.

Low said such scheduling limitations would make it difficult to start interdisciplinary teaming, which she said would allow a science teacher to know what his or her students are learning in English, math and social studies. She said interdisciplinary teaming would be an extension of the junior high's present Core classes, in which seventh-graders study both English and geography with the same teacher for two hours.

"The kids see that English has a purpose. It's not something that's done for one hour," Low said. Under interdisciplinary teaming, she said, "We can share ideas to help that students in all subjects."

JACK SCHREINER, who teaches social studies at West, said an advantage of the three-year junior high schools is that ninth-graders serve as examples for seventh- and eighth-graders.

"I really think you're going to miss out on that ninth-grade leadership if you move them," Schreiner said.

Russell Blackbird, assistant principal at South, disagreed, saying, "I think you can make leaders out of seventh-graders, eighth-graders and ninth-graders."

The Commission on Mid-Level and High School Education will meet again July 10.

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