The reason to add another instructional period to each middle school day is to give students more educational options. But the Pinellas School Board is looking to save $2.2-million at the same time, which may undermine the effort.
The only way the school district can save money while adding classes is to make each teacher teach more, without extra pay. No wonder so many teachers are wary. Add one extra class each day, with another lesson plan and another 22 or more tests and homework assignments to grade, and the load grows heavy.
As Southside Fundamental Middle School math teacher Yvette Derollo told board members: "The frustration level is building, and there's no relief in sight. And now I feel thrown under the bus."
This is not an encouraging start to a middle school plan that should ultimately give students more options — for classes to help them catch up or for electives that might draw their interest as they prepare for high school. If teachers end up feeling the new load is unmanageable, then students ultimately will be the ones to suffer. If the extra class violates the current contract with teachers, and Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association executive director Jade Moore says it does, then the district may end up saving no money.
The changes in middle school that are to take effect in August have been two years in the making, with parents and teachers and administrators all involved in the process. But the end game, unfortunately, was forced by a Legislature that handed Pinellas a $43-million budgetary shortfall. At that point, board members found themselves playing a numbers game, able to cut teachers at middle schools if all the rest would teach more and plan less.
The goal should be to help middle school students, caught in the awkward and rambunctious developmental years between elementary and high school, find their academic bearings. The problem is that schools open in eight weeks, and the only certainty is that $2.2-million is to be saved.