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Middle school transition gets the thumbs-up

Spontaneous applause broke out at the School District 833 board meeting Thursday, as members voted unanimously in favor of the middle school transition plan.

As a result of the decision, South Washington County's four junior highs will become middle schools with eight-period days, rather than six periods.

One of the ideas behind the eight-period day is to allow a high level of core subject content to continue, as well as allowing students to take more encore/exploratory classes.

Four teachers and a parent stood up in advance of the decision to speak in support of the middle school proposal, explaining the difference it would make to their students.

"I'm here to share my passion with you about middle school and my commitment, but also my staff's commitment and my staff's passion for the middle school model," said Kymm Salwasser, a seventh grade science teacher from Cottage Grove Junior High.

"Eleven- to 13-year-olds are at a crucial time of their lives, not only socially but also educationally and emotionally...

"We can create that ultimate student, challenging their mind and their soul and their body."

With very little discussion or comment from the seven members of the school board, the proposal was approved, with implementation of the middle school model and the eight-period day in fall 2009.

It has been estimated that the additional cost of implementing the middle school model is likely to be in the region of $850,000 for the 2009-10 school year.

From 2010, the cost will be balanced out by savings at the district's high schools, a result of the transition there from a four-period, four-half-semester approach to a six-period, three-trimester program.

The school board, at a previous meeting, had agreed to delay implementation of that new schedule by one year after hearing representation from students and teachers.

At the Oct. 23 meeting, however, members were asked to look again at the question of dropping the four-period day.

"Over the past week, an anonymous survey was given to the teachers in one of the district's high schools," said Chris Dease, a teacher from Woodbury High School, giving a copy of the survey results to board members.

"The overwhelming majority feel that this is the wrong decision to go and it's not in the best interests of our students.

"We would ask you to reconsider the introduction of the schedule.

"We're not against the middle school schedule; I just think there's a way to figure out how to do both."

A motion by board member Denise Kapler later in the meeting to reconsider the earlier decision failed to find a second, and so no further discussion on the new high school schedule was entertained.