Eighteen parents spoke at Thursday’s Arlington School Board meeting against a plan to switch county middle schools to block scheduling, saying it would hurt music programs, cut P.E. and other electives and be developmentally inappropriate.
On the day after Superintendent Patrick Murphy announced he would delay the plan to get more community input, Murphy and the board got an earful of input at the start of its regular biweekly meeting.
The plan would lengthen the standard class time for core subjects from 45 to 76 minutes for sixth grade and 93 for seventh and eighth grades. The longer blocks would allow for more individual attention from teachers and more in-depth learning, projects, experiments and discussions, APS officials say.
But parents protested that the proposed schedule cuts music classes in half for sixth graders, meeting for 45 minutes only every other day, and divides membership in the band, orchestra and choral ensembles by grade instead of ability.
Multi-grade music classes allow beginners to pick up a new skill and experienced students to flourish, said Katy Banks, who heads a group called Arlington Parents for Effective Scheduling in Schools, which formed last week to express opposition to the plan.
Swanson Middle School has 11 music groups, nine of which cross grade levels, she said.
Banks, who said she is open to block scheduling but opposes the current plan, asked the board to allow more parent involvement in redesigning the schedule that was proposed by APS last month.
Washington-Lee High School has a full block schedule, and all its music ensembles are multi-grade. “Why can high school have multi-grade music programs and middle school cannot?” Banks asked.
School Board President Abby Raphael acknowledged that the district needed to hear from more parents before implementing the block schedules. “Our goal throughout has been to reach out to the community,” Raphael said. “But clearly there is a group we missed, and we need to do better.”
Murphy agreed. “One of the things I hear the most clear in your message is strengthening communications, and I take full responsibility for that, and we will do that.”
Murphy had planned to present the plan to the board for a approval in March, but announced Wednesday that he would delay for two months. He also added three community forums on the proposal to the two already planned.
Other parents objected that under the proposal, different schools would all be following the same plan, pointing out that the county’s five middle schools have different needs and programs to serve their specific challenges.