Nearly 50 parents shuffled into the cafeteria at Newington Forest Elementary School, some with students in tow, others dressed for work, all ready to hear the changes at South County Secondary School this fall.
With more than 500 new students expected to put the school over its 2,500-student capacity, and a boundary study scheduled this fall to help ease the strain on the facility, South County principal Dale Rumberger created a modified bell schedule, shifting the school day for middle school students. To answer the questions of parents, Rumberger and members of his staff hosted a series of three meetings to better prepare the community.
“The entire administrative staff had a lot of input over changes to the schedule,” said Gary Morris, the principal of Subschool Five at South County.
BY ALLOWING high school students to keep their 7:20 a.m. to 2:28 p.m. schedule, middle school students will take advantage of remediation or enrichment programs while the high schoolers are at lunch, Morris said.
When middle schoolers are still in class between 2:35-4:05 p.m., high schoolers will have to either be in a study hall or a predetermined activity period so as to not disrupt them, he said.
“The frustration last year with the coaching staff was the inability to start practice on time because so many kids were getting extra help after school,” Rumberger said. “This new schedule let us craft a process that allows the kids to be an athlete, but they’ll have to learn to manage their time.”
During their mid-day “middle school seminar” period, when high school students are at lunch, students will be assigned to one of their four core-subject teachers, Rumberger said. By using a team teaching concept, all four teachers will be aware of any area in which a student may need extra help. By having all four teachers available at the same time, a student will have a better chance of getting the help he or she needs, he said.
Teachers take attendance in every class, including the seminar session, Morris said.
To help teachers keep students on top of assignments, Rumberger said the first thing he’ll ask for during a parent-teacher conference or meeting with a student is the student’s planner, in which students are expected to write all assignments.
“If the student doesn’t have their planner, the meeting is over,” he said. “If the student has the planner but it’s empty, the meeting is over. We’re equipping them with the tools they’ll need to do well, but they have to use them.”
IN ADDITION to the modified schedule, several four-classroom trailers arrived in the front parking lot of the school this spring, which Rumberger said was a bleak morning.
“It’s never a happy moment,” he said, but the quads at South County are only three years old at most and are in good shape for students. They are not equipped with water, which means students will have to go inside to use the bathroom or get a drink of water, Rumberger said.
While teachers and staff are trying to finalize a master schedule for the fall, he said that all students at all grade levels will have a class in the trailers at some point.
Five hundred more lockers are being installed over the summer, Rumberger said, but due to a $16 million budget shortfall, the lockers are not new; they were acquired from a school that was renovated. The new lockers are still coming with a $225,000 price tag.
The change in the bell schedule will undoubtedly cause some anxiety with parents, who might want to drop their student off at 8:30 a.m. like last year, Rumberger said.
“If anything has caused us any angst this summer, it’s the rising seventh grade parents who need a place for their child to be,” he said. “We have neither the staff nor the resources, and I’m not going to bring the middle school staff in any earlier. Please, please, please get them here between 9 a.m. and 9:10 a.m.”
The partnership and understanding fostered between the school and the parents last year will help ease the bumps and rough patches of what may be a tough year, Rumberger said.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know we will be having a series of boundary study discussions starting in October,” he said.
However, Rumberger said his role in the study is simply to educate their students.
“I don’t do boundaries,” he said. “I do windows, I do floors and I educate students.”
WITH TWO STUDENTS at South County, a sophomore and a senior, Linda Visbeck said she found the meeting very helpful. "I have a better idea of what to expect now," she said. She doesn’t think the modified schedule will impact her children, but she was happy to see that Rumberger and his staff had taken the time to help things run smoothly.
A new parent to South County, Cheryl Robinson said she wanted to get some basic information about the school and the new schedule to take home to her rising ninth grade student.
“I like the high school schedule, early in and early out,” she said. “This has been a lot for them to organize but it seems like they’ve done a good job. I feel much better about all this now.”
Susan Matthews said she wanted to find out the facts before her daughter, entering eighth grade, started asking questions she couldn’t answer.
“I have a lot of faith in Dale and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing,” she said. “Things might be a little bumpy, but September always is and I’m sure we’ll all be fine.”