Guest Post: Concerns over DMS Schedule Change

Submitted by Natalie Gillespie, Kelly Caracciolo, Dana Kellerman, Lisa Rendall, Beth Ruff, Shannon Smith, Marybeth Dadd, Abby Torres, Lisa Correnti, and Carrie Work on behalf of many concerned parents.

This is a guest blog post.  The views expressed are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent or reflect the policies or opinions of the O’Hara PTO. 

On February 21, Fox Chapel administration presented its proposed changes and schedule for Dorseyville Middle School for the 2018-2019 school year. We are reaching out to you, parents of elementary students, because your children will be directly affected by these changes. They will attend DMS (sooner than you think!).

We were asked that we focus only on the “schedule change,” “leaving the past in the past.” To us, this means we are being asked to blindly accept a major shift in educational approach, with barely articulated reasons for it. We have repeatedly asked District administration and our School Board to share data demonstrating why such drastic changes in the schedule are needed. We ask that you join us in signing our petition requesting the administration and school board delay implementation until there is thorough review and we know that the changes they are making are best for all children. Sign the petition here.

Here’s what troubles us most:

  1. Double time without a reason why. The new schedule requires all students to take 80 minutes of instruction in Math, Literacy and Science/Computer Science every day, although the district has provided very little data to support that doubled time is needed, why 80 minutes per PSSA-measured subjects is the right amount of time, and how that time will be used. More time does not necessarily equal more achievement. Not only is 80 minutes an extraordinarily long period of time to hold the attention of children age 10-14 (multiplied by three subjects each day) it means less time for other important subjects.
  2. Limited electives give students LESS of what they want.  The new changes are billed as “individualized pathways” with more time for students to pursue what they’re interested in. With 40% less time for non-core subjects, including World Language, arts, music, Family and Consumer Science and Technology Education, our children’s ability to explore new interests and become well-rounded will be significantly limited. With just three elective periods (offered every other day), there is no guarantee students will get their preferences and class sizes likely will be much larger. Reducing by half the amount of time studying a language will have direct implications on student ability and the high school programs. Making kids choose between music and language and FACS because they’re forced to have extended math and literacy everyday feels wrong.
  3. We want the best education for ALL students. The one-size-fits all approach to doubling math, literacy and science actually forces larger groups for intervention, and likely less individualized time for students. When will students have small groups or programs like Math Extension that help help students reach proficiency? How will this schedule help close the achievement gap that is a concern to all of us? And what will students who don’t need intervention do in the extra 20 minutes of Math and Literacy each day?
  4. Created without input. As far as we know, just three parents were consulted on the schedule, and they saw it only two days before it was unveiled. The Fox Chapel Educators Association stated their 2016 task force reached consensus on a 60-minute core class period schedule in March of 2017 (11 months ago!), the last time they had input… and they have not stated support for the proposed schedule, which apparently was shared with them the same day it was shared with parents (February 21, 2018). No other school districts are known to have implemented similarly drastic changes. These are major changes that need to be discussed and evaluated across the entire school community.
  5. Rushing this through will hurt our children and our school. When the schedule was introduced, administration acknowledged much needed to be done for a 2018-19 rollout, including new curriculum to be developed and teachers to be trained. There are so many questions to be resolved: when will teachers get their prep time? How will class sizes be affected? How will elective choices be granted? What if everyone wants one class and only a handful of students another? At every step, there are indications that changes have not been fully thought through and the approach is haphazard. At the Feb. 21 meeting, FACS was identified as an optional elective only to have a parent cite the PA law requiring all students to receive the FACS curriculum. What else has been missed? How have the effects of significant curriculum middle school changes on the high school (such as a 50% reduction in time spent on world language, or students being shut out of music and art programs) been considered and mitigated?

As parents, we want the best for all students in our district. Not only does this mean programs and time allotments geared to their specific needs, it means exposure to a wide range of engaging subjects to spark their interest, engage their creativity, and develop their skills as active problem solvers equipped for whatever developments the future brings. We respectfully ask the administration and school board of Fox Chapel Area School District to develop a clearly defined process for creating the right schedule, and to delay implementation until the 2019-20 school year to ensure we do this right. We owe this to our students and the Fox Chapel Area community.

PLEASE GET INVOLVED. WE NEED YOU!

  1.  Join us! Over 300 people have signed our petition asking for a delay. Go to  Delay DMS changes Petition and add your name.
  2. Talk to us: email or call any of the contributors to this piece. Join more than 500 parents who are part our Facebook group “Parents Interested in Supporting DMS” and be part of the conversation. Share this note with your friends and family and ask for their support.
  3.  Tell our School Board what you think: Send email to: Obernauer.somer@gmail.com, lisarutkowski@howardhanna.com, ericcschmidt@outlook.com, sandragarbisch5@gmail.com, vyas312@gmail.comtwirginis@gatewayclipper.comedie.cook@yahoo.com, nbf@guyasuta.com, rm@muslaw.com, gene_freeman@fcasd.edu
  4.  Attend the next school board meetings: Everyone is invited to the Planning Session on Monday, March 5th at Fairview Elementary School (time TBD on March 5– no earlier than 5:30 p.m.) and on Monday, March 12 at Fox Chapel Area High School at 7 p.m.

Thank you for joining us to maximize student learning, achievement, and development. Together, we can make this happen in a way we collectively agree is best.

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