This week, Superintendent Don Grotting selected the new schedule that will be implemented at all neighborhood middle schools starting next fall for the 2021-22 school year, and it’s a PE + 2 Electives schedule!
This is a huge step toward what we — the students, teachers, parents, and community members of BFoM — have been advocating for several years. The plan provides much better predictability about course offerings and class length (they’ll be the same across the district), and it has the flexibility to give students multiple electives and real choices about the direction of their education, even if they are involved in AVID or special services like SPED or ELL.
The announcement does not specifically say students will have guaranteed access to at least one year-long daily elective, which is what our 2019 Petition called for — and remains our bottom line — but it provides a strong framework for that outcome. We’ll be reaching out to district administrators after Thanksgiving break for clarification on whether all students will indeed have access to at least one year-long daily elective. If that is the case, we can celebrate that students will no longer be forced to forfeit exploring new subjects in order to also have a deep, sequential experience in at least one of their electives. It will be a boon for students’ experience overall, and offer a path for more students to participate in music.
Based on our analysis of the schedule presented, greater flexibility is being achieved by shortening the length of each period and adding more slots in the day to cover math, science, language arts, social studies, PE, and two electives. The subjects of science and math are still favored with an additional period on alternate days, and the overall balance of the schedule is much better than in the past.
The shortened period length is certainly a challenge. We had hoped the district would be able to adopt a schedule that kept lessons in the 45-60min range; 42-minutes is short for music rehearsals with beginners, but we expect that it will be a daily class instead of an every-other-day class, and we hope the fact that more students will have access to the class will make up for the shorter period. All along in this process, we knew compromises would have to be made to arrive at the best solution with so many important scheduling objectives to try to fit in. While this schedule wasn’t our first choice on the list that BSD surveyed this spring, we believe it can be a solution to the persistent inequity and insecurity that has dogged our feeder music programs for so many years. Over time, it has the potential to build robust participation that benefits the high school music programs as well, and students will finally be able to reap the benefits promised by sustained participation in a serious arts program as part of a complete educational experience.
(This might go without saying, but to be absolutely clear, the new schedule isn’t expected to take effect until we’re back to regular in-person school; right now BSD schools are still navigating the pandemic, so things may look different until that resolves.)
Achieving these program quality improvements absolutely hinges on the implementation of the schedule. Each of the eight comprehensive middle schools will be making some kind of transition next fall in order to comply, but with site-based management having been the rule for so many years, this is something we’ll need to watch carefully. It would be a shame if central administration announced a new district-wide policy only to have it circumvented by individual building choices. For example, a school choosing to not offer daily full year band/choir within this structure would not meet our objective of an equitable quality arts experience as part of a comprehensive education. We will all need to remain engaged to hold administration to their promises.
Now that you know a little more about what’s at stake in the new schedule, let’s talk about what this means for us—the Friends of Music. This week’s BSD announcement begins with a brief history of the Common Middle School Experience (CME) that began in 2014. Let’s remember this was the year after BFoM hired John Benham to publish a comprehensive report on the status of our music programs, and also shortly after the BSD Music Task Force of 2014 presented its final report to the school board (you can read the report attached to this page). It was also the same year BSD brought equity to the elementary school level by normalizing access to music and PE class at 90-minutes per week, the first step in implementing Music Task Force recommendations to rebuild our district music programs from the bottom up with an emphasis on equity. The BSD effort to create a common bell schedule for middle schools was a natural next step after BFoM and the Music Task Force highlighted the inequities being experienced by students in our schools.
It has taken six years for the BSD to come to this decision. BFoM helped instigate the conversation and has been pushing for it every step of the way. Even when it looked like we were losing ground, we never gave up. Through these years, principals continued to exercise unilateral control over elective programming in middle schools, leading to draconian music cuts in 2015 and again in 2019. Both of those incidents induced a strong response from the BFoM community with petitions and media attention. We continued to pressure decision-makers with testimony at monthly board meetings and by developing relationships with board members and administrators in regular 1-1 conversations. We reached out to educate our friends and colleagues, and we worked with Fine Arts TOSA, Blake Allen, to stay up to date on the status of programs at schools across the district. As more members joined our organization, we worked to build unity across the district. We researched the root issues and developed proposals for resolving them.
All of this work has culminated in a School Board and district leadership that was finally ready to start a new chapter this year. These new policies are really significant because it’s been about two decades since the district has provided sequence, choice, and variety in electives along with consistency in every building.
Of particular importance in bringing about these changes was the work of BSD Administrator for Middle Schools, Ken Struckmeier, and also that of Matt Casteel, who held the position prior to Ken. Both administrators, along with Deputy Superintendent Ginny Hansmann and Superintendent Grotting, engaged in productive ongoing discussion with our outreach team and were receptive to suggestions.
Huge shifts in a district of this size don’t happen by chance. They are developed by constituents who are informed and active in shaping the values of their district. This week’s announcement is a key example of how BFoM has generated effective advocacy, and reminds us once again of the value of tenacity in our work. Thank you for being part of this winning team!
As we all celebrate the fruits of our collective labor, BFoM leadership has two important things to ask of you:
1) Step up (or stay on) as a BFoM representative for your school. You’ll attend occasional BFoM meetings and coordinate with the music teacher at your school. We’ll need you to be our eyes and ears watching the implementation of the new middle school schedule to ensure it’s done as published and to see whether it promotes the program quality improvements we seek. Elementary and high school reps will help ensure strong communication to our parent communities as children transition to and from middle school.
2) Make plans to attend our virtual BFoM meeting on Tuesday Dec. 1st at 6:30-7:30pm (we’ll send you the Zoom invite if you write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and the BSD school you’re near). There are important opportunities on the horizon and we need our district-wide coalition to shape the plan.
Applause and three cheers! We hope to see you all soon.