Houston Middle School goes to block scheduling

LOGO HOUSTON School RAMHOUSTON – Students at Houston Middle School will be immersed in math, reading and English next year in an effort to improve state test scores in those subjects.

The Houston School Board voted last week to go to the modified block scheduling that will see class periods go from 45-minutes of instruction to 75-minutes on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Thursday-Thursday schedule.

The vote was not without concerns as Trustee Carol Byrne repeatedly questioned the move and then abstained from voting. The motion to go to block scheduling was made by Trustee Thomas Howell and seconded by Trustee Bart Munlin and passed 4-1 with trustees Marvin Beard and Daniel Heeringa supporting it.

“The change will see reading, language arts and math taught every day,” said Debbie Harmon, Director of Curriculum. “Science, social studies, computer classes, learning strategies and electives will be every other day.

Harmon pointed out the district is moving to Common Core curriculum and the decision was made to make these changes at one time.

Byrne questioned how teachers felt about this big a move and felt the district would hear more negative comments about the change from teachers than from parents.

“Teachers know that changes have to be made in that building,” said Harmon. “This is all about students and improving instruction time and improving test scores.”

Harmon also said this change was not made lightly and a group of teachers made a trip to Poplarville to see how that district used modified block scheduling to become a High Performance school.

“They have been doing it three years and their teachers love it,” said Harmon. “Yes, more instruction time per class will mean more planning and preparation for teachers, but at the end of the week it is all the same amount of time.”

Harmon also said less time would be lost in changing classes and teachers would typically start the class with instruction and follow it up with a lab or quizzes to see what was learned and plan accordingly.

Houston Middle School has 470 students in grades sixth, seventh and eighth grades and received a qualified “C” ranking in the 2013-14 state accountability rankings. The district has roughly 1,800 and received a “C” ranking last year.

“I think our teachers are hoping this will be the spark that helps bring about improvements at the Middle School,” said Harmon. “That is a tough age for kids and a tough age for teachers, too. We’ve got good teachers. We have talked about this with them for more than a year and I think we can make these adjustments and do what is best for our students.”

Harmon said there will be additional staff improvement sessions to help teachers make this transition along with Common Core goals and requirements.

The district will soon begin helping students with schedules for next year and the change was made at this time so classes and teachers can be ready for next fall.

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