The Kyrene School District is not informing parents how proposed changes to middle schools will affect our children next year. Although numerous updates filled with pleasant sounding generalities about middle school go out, the updates say nothing about how the changes will impact our children. Specific changes to middle schools are buried in links to lengthy documents containing more layers of links. The consequences of the changes are nowhere to be found. I am writing as a concerned parent and experienced secondary school teacher of 10 years. I have a son in sixth grade and a daughter in fifth, and I am troubled because some of the proposed changes will result in a harsh and stressful school environment. One dubious change is the elimination of the pod structure. This change will decrease student well-being and lower academic achievement.
A primary objective of the pod structure is to cultivate a sense of belonging among students and to reduce bullying. The pod structure transforms a large, impersonal campus into several smaller communities. The pod structure decreases bullying on campus by helping students get to know one another better, reducing the distance that students travel between classes, ensuring that students are traveling from period to period with other students they know, and assuring that teachers recognize students who walk by their classrooms during passing periods. On a large traditional campus teachers do not recognize many of the students who walk by. Bullying flourishes with anonymity. Opportunities for bullying abound on large campuses when students walk to class alone.
One academic support the pod provides students is Academic Lab, a course designed to help students in their core classes and on standardized tests. Academic Lab has worked well for my son. Since my son has Academic Lab at the same time as his core teachers, he can go to any of his core teachers for help during this class. Academic Lab also provides time for teachers to help students improve on standardized tests. Our children will face high risk standardized tests that will determine high school graduation, scholarships, and college acceptance. Our students need support to help them succeed on these high stake tests.
Another costly consequence of eliminating the pod structure is an increase in test related stress. The core teachers in my son's pod work together when scheduling tests and short-term assignments. My son has not been burdened with having to study for two or more major tests on the same day. Eliminate the pod structure and students will, at times, have too many major tests to study for on the same day. Coordination of tests and assignments among teachers on a large campus is not possible without the pod structure. I am further worried about what I learned at the Board of Education meeting on Dec. 13. I heard important members of our community express concern that children who are active in extracurricular activities are being harmed by the late start. Imagine the stress these student athletes would be under if they had multiple, major tests on the same day. I am also alarmed that the loss of the pod structure would be particularly detrimental if we reduce class time in core classes by 12 percent. How can we save money by shortening core classes?
At the Dec. 13 Board of Education meeting I was shocked to learn that the district's projected savings of late start were not realized. The actual savings are not even close to half of the projected savings. A failure of this magnitude casts doubt on the information the district sends to parents. I feel the district should provide parents with accurate information detailing the impact each proposed middle school change will have on students before any decisions are made for next year.