CLAREMONT — The Claremont School District will begin this summer to strategically discuss two major restructuring projects: redesigning the Stevens High School schedule and realigning the district’s three elementary schools.
Superintendent Michael Tempesta said this week that the district plans to organize committees and a series of public forums starting this summer to begin work on a pair of major proposals, each designed to improve educational quality, instructional time and district-wide organizational efficiency.
Revisiting the Stevens scheduleOne focus will be to renew the effort to revamp the Stevens High School schedule, aimed to increase instructional time in key content areas and better align with schedules in the career-tech education school and Claremont Middle School.
“The advantage of being on the same schedules is you can share staff or have a natural transition for students in the middle school to the high school sooner,” explained Superintendent Michael Tempesta.
Stevens High School currently runs on a “four by four” block schedule. Students have four courses each day, each with a class-length of 70 to 80 minutes. Each teacher teaches during three of the four blocks.
But unlike most high schools, these courses are only semester long, as opposed to a full year. As a result students get “substantially” less instructional time, between 30% to 40% less, than if the courses were year-long but reduced in class length to around 60 minutes, Tempesta said.
Additionally, many students run into issues in which they fulfill their credits early in some core subjects and go up to a full school year without any instruction in that content area.
Tempesta said that committees will examine a breadth of scheduling questions, including which content areas would most benefit from shorter class lengths but year-long instruction and whether some current electives should be core requirements.
The district attempted a similar schedule change in 2014 but the design received a vocal backlash from many district educators, students and families. In 2016, with a grievance filed by Stevens’s teacher union awaiting review by the state Supreme Court, the school board opted to abandon the schedule.
Tempesta noted that the union’s grievance was not with the schedule in principle but the inequity of the particular model that was adopted.
“We’re not there (this time),” Tempesta told the Claremont School Board. “We’ve had a bunch of people talk about this and what we are looking at is the equity of all teaching assignments.”
The district hopes to work through the summer and fall to have a schedule proposal before the board in October, Tempesta said.
An October-deadline would align with the start of budget conversations for the 2022-2023 school year and allow the board time to discuss in time to approve by January, when schedules for the next school year must be finalized.
Elementary schoolsA second discussion beginning this summer will concern a proposal to reorganize Claremont’s three overlapping K-5 schools — Bluff, Dinard and Maple Avenue — to a grade-based division.
Under the proposed model, Maple Avenue would house all students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade Disnard would serve students in second and third grades and Bluff would serve students in fourth and fifth.
This proposed model would create more stability and control of class sizes from year to year; offer a cohesive, equitable experience for all students; improve the efficiency of specialized services; and cultivate opportunities for team-teaching, content-based teaching and accelerated learning programs, according to district officials.
School board Chair Frank Sprague, a proponent of this idea, added that being able to designate content-specific teachers, the fifth-graders would be able to acclimate sooner to the middle school culture next year.
“We have to figure out the bussing issue but, pedagogically, which is where I am coming from, the advantages of this are unbelievable,” Sprague said.
In an interview with The Eagle Times, Sprague said that busing is his biggest concern, particularly in situations where a parent has, say, three elementary-age children in three separate schools with identical dismissal times.
Unlike the high school schedule, Sprague said he believes the elementary school realignment will require considerable more time to develop and discuss as a community. The soonest Sprague anticipates a potential elementary school realignment to take effect would be the 2023-2024 school year.
“That one is not going to happen next year,” Sprague said. “I want to hear what people in the community have to say and to know this decision was based on the public’s opinion, not on a decision made by six or seven (officials).”
Sprague said he will still advocate for a public vote on any realignment proposal, as board members verbally promised the public last year.
A vote should also allow ample time to research the proposal, provide the details to the public and community deliberation and debate of the pros and cons, Sprague said.
Tempesta did not specify a desired timeline regarding an alignment proposal but told the school board that these two proposals, while complimentary, are not contingent upon one another. This means the district could implement one plan while still developing the second, though details such as staffing number changes will look at both plans combined to determine options or overall impacts.