Principals put rumors to rest with return to seven-period school days

Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 10:40

After some debate and much speculation, both Gruening and Mirror Lake middle schools will be returning to a seven-period school day next fall.

This year for the first time, middle schools across Anchorage School District squeezed eight 40-minute class periods into each school day.

The eighth period was incorporated at the recommendation of scheduling consultants to accommodate the “multi-tiered system of support”, a district-wide early detection and intervention effort targeting students’ individual academic, social/emotional and behavioral needs.

Some teachers and parents thought eight periods are too many and 40-minute classes are too short, but opinions have varied about the best possible alternative.

ASD, rather than force a common schedule on all middle schools, ultimately delegated the scheduling for each school to the principals. Their decision deadline was March 30.

Around February, Chugiak and Eagle River parents became concerned that Gruening and Mirror Lake administrators were considering reducing the school day from eight periods to as few as six.

Six periods would mean no electives for students whose elective time is consumed by special education courses, or Spanish immersion classes at Mirror Lake.

It would mean cut hours for teachers of electives, such as music, art and applied technology. For youth who struggle with core subjects like math and language arts, it could mean missing opportunities to excel or losing the classes that keep them engaged in school.

Parents and teachers rallied via text and social media and barraged both principals with emails.

“I think it was important to get input from a wide variety of stakeholders,” Gruening principal Bobby Jefts said.

“The biggest thing we heard from parents was they want an elective choice for their students. Having seven periods provides that rich environment that many in our community want for our students.”

Jefts said his primary concerns with a six-period day are increased class sizes and the loss of elective choices.

At Mirror Lake Middle School, principal Alexandra Hagler shares those concerns and also identified Spanish immersion, the award-winning band program and athletics as high priorities in MLMS community. Parents were adamant their children not be forced to choose between Spanish immersion and band.

“Those three things have made Mirror Lake what it is,” Hagler said. “Changing that would change the culture of the school.”

The principals said they appreciated feedback from teachers and parents and felt the consensus was in the best interest of the students.

“The teachers all gave me their input and their needs, and they knew from the beginning that I would go with what’s best for the kids,” Hagler said.

“When the parents were frantic, I tried to respond to every email and reassure them that it’s just rumors. Know that we’ll do what’s best for the kids.”

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