When Board of Education members talk about the school system's proposed middle school program this evening, they're hoping to see the results of compromise and negotiation.
At least that's what dissenting members said they were hoping for Jan. 26 when they voted against the proposal as presented by Howard County Public School System officials.
School system officials have recommended some sweeping changes to the middle school program — some precipitated by the adoption of the Common Core state standards — and others, like instituting a uniform class schedule across all county middle schools, that will further help standardize the program throughout the system.
In addition to instituting seven, 50-minute class periods in each school, the plan calls for adding world language to the sixth-grade curriculum and adds physical education class time.
To create the time for those additions, school officials proposed eliminating free-standing reading classes and instead called for a disciplinary literacy approach that would integrate reading instruction into math, science, social studies and English classes.
Some related arts teachers (music, physical education and world language, for example) would lose a negotiated planning period and be expected to teach six classes a day instead of five — or one more than most of their peers.
When the school board voted on the proposal Jan. 26, the eight-member body deadlocked with a 4-4 vote.
In issues in which the student member is allowed to vote, as was the case with this vote, the successful side must get five votes.
In explaining their votes, dissenting board members expressed concern about the loss of the targeted reading classes and the loss of negotiated planning time for some educators.
Student board member Tomi Williams, who voted against adopting the proposal, told his colleagues and an audience of educators that, in his younger years, he would never touch a book and hated to read.
He credited a middle school reading teacher for sparking his love for books and recreational reading, and expressed concern over future students who would miss out because of the elimination of the class that was so important to him.
"I'm a little biased, because of how close I am to my middle school reading classes," Williams said. "But I think these classes are important."
Several board members were also concerned that teachers appeared to be unified in their opposition to the proposal, despite assurances from central office administrators that the proposal was best for students.
Citing some changes that were already made to the original proposal, some board members said they were confident the two sides could get even closer to an agreement if they continued to work together in the two weeks between the two school board meetings.
Those changes include having all middle school teachers be responsible for five classes per day, with one planning period and a "program implementation period" per day, according to a school system document outlining the revisions.
Sixth- and seventh-grade students will receive world language instruction every other day, while eighth-graders will receive it daily, according to the document.
School board member Brian Meshkin, who also is opposed to eliminating the dedicated readling class, submitted a proposal to school administrators and Howard County Education Association President Paul Lemle that he said he believes will bridge the two sides.
Currently, there are nearly as many middle school schedules as there are middle schools, Meshkin said.
Some schools offer four 90-minute blocks, some offer one 90-minute block and six 45-minute periods, or two 90-minute blocks and four 45-minute periods.
While he said he understands the need to provide uniformity in the schedule across the system, Meshkin said he doesn't understand how the extra five minutes will add value to each class.
Instead of seven, 50-minute periods, Meshkin is proposing eight, 45-minute periods, a model he said would allow the school system to accomplish all that needs to be done to satisfy Common Core standards while also preserving the reading classes.
"I am confident that, given the compromise that has already been worked out, more work can be done and we can come back to the net meeting and get this accomplished," Meshkin said.
Lemle's group has felt like it was on the outside looking in throughout much of the process, he said.
"No one in HCEA's leadership has been approached at any time for advice or assistance with how the proposed changes to the middle school program might work," Lemle told Patch last month. "And we have offered many times to help."
Board members, including Allen Dyer, Cindy Vaillancourt and Meshkin, said they were also concerned that school administrators appeared to roll out the changes in November, without presenting the proposal to the school board.
Reading teachers were told in November that their jobs as they know them would not exist next year, and were given several options to consider accepting after the changes were implemented.
Board members are scheduled to vote on the proposal and its amendments at tonight's board meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the school system headquarters, 10910 Route 108.