Lazar Time Change Proposed Under 2013 School Budget
Midterm and final exam elimination also included in proposal.
The Montville Township Public Schools administration is proposing to move the time of the school day at the Robert R. Lazar Middle School up and eliminate midterm and final exams, with the exception of two subjects in the eighth grade level, as part of the district's 2013-14 budget initiatives.
A presentation of the budget proposals, which Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried noted are not necessarily recommendations by the administration but more so items for discussion, was delivered before the Montville Township Board of Education and members of the public on Tuesday night. Fried did not include cost figures in Tuesday's presentation, the first of many on the budget, but prefaced his comments with an explanation that the budget is a "monetary expression of our instructional program."
"What I like to do is present academic and capital initiatives without putting a price tag on them initially," he said.
In addition to the Lazar proposals, Fried spoke about new curricular programs the district would like to explore, such as the continuation and expansion of use of the Rosetta Stone program to include second graders; a new K-5 mathematics program; continuation of the high school three-year Science Research Program; and the creation of a new research-based humanities program. Humanities Supervisor David Tubbs spoke briefly about the program he hopes to see piloted under the 2013-14 budget and the excitement and enthusiasm already garnered by teachers. Students would be able to spend some time researching a topic of their choice and take ownership of the knowledge they gain.
"They're going to have the opportunity to become that expert and share with others what they have become an expert in," Tubbs said.
Another proposal was to launch a new high school course on athletic training.
Staffing proposals included the reduction of two elementary school teachers at William Mason School and Cedar Hill (one per building); the addition of two lunch recess aides at the William Mason School; the addition of one elementary and one secondary supervisor; and the addition of two new guidance counselors, one at the high school and one at Lazar. Fried said the administration felt adding guidance counselors was an important step the district could take to continue to improve safety. Currently, Lazar has three guidance counselors for about 900 students.
"The tragedy in Connecticut has called our attention to that area very clearly," he said. "It's not just about [physical] safety but it's also about mental health and that kind of safety."
In addition to some discussion on what can be done to raise participation in the high school music program, the Lazar items, particularly the school time change, seemed to be key issues regarding the budget. Under the proposal, the school day would start at 7:30 a.m. at Lazar, the same time as the high school. Financial consideration would need to be made as bus plans would need to be adjusted.
One of the reasons the time change is being considered is because the administrators believe having the students leave school earlier could alleviate stress as many students balance after-school activities with homework and family time. Another benefit would be for department heads on the high school and middle school level to be available at the same times, allowing them to collaborate more.
"That will be a huge advantage in terms of advancing our curriculum moving forward," Fried said.
Elimination of the midterm and final exams at Lazar, with the exception of World Language and Algebra exams for eighth grade, are also intended to alleviate stress for students and for teachers tasked with grading the tests. Fried said eliminating the exams would give back four days of school, two full days of instruction.
Board Member Jackie Ritschel asked Fried if the administration could consider moving the suggested starting time of Lazar back a little later and also moving the elementary school times back so that busing would not be significantly affected but students would be able to be in school later. A few parents who spoke referenced research that suggests students' brains work best in later hours of the day.
"Waking up a teenager at 7 a.m. is analogous to waking us up at 4 a.m.," one parent said.
The board will continue to discuss all the proposals at the next board meeting on Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. at the municipal building. Fried said he is confident that all of the initiatives proposed, including the Lazar proposals, would amount to a budget that remains under the state-mandated 2 percent spending increase cap.