Middle school students in the Morgan Hill School District may
have a shorter day next year, thanks to the planned departure of
the ninth graders to Live Oak and the new Sobrato High.
Middle school students in the Morgan Hill School District may have a shorter day next year, thanks to the planned departure of the ninth graders to Live Oak and the new Sobrato High.
During registration for seventh graders at Martin Murphy Middle, students and their parents were informed that middle schools students would be attending school for one hour less each day beginning in August.
Students currently are in school for approximately six hours and 45 minutes.
Superintendent Carolyn McKennan said the final decision on cutting back hours will be made by district trustees.
“The board has taken no action, has not even had a discussion about this,” she said. “We haven’t had that conversation. Some middle school teachers have had that conversation, but we would have some work to do before it could come to the board.”
The reason teachers have been discussing a shorter day, said Martin Murphy Principal Rhoda Wolfskehl, is that the two district middle schools have had to offer a longer day because of what the state education code requires for 9-12 students.
“We have guidelines, set up by the state a long time ago,” she said. “For grades four through eight, the state requires a minimum of 54,000 minutes per year. Grades 9-12 are required to attend at least 64,800, which is the schedule we are currently on. All of the outlying communities have the (middle school) students on a shorter day.”
Wolfskehl said the Middle School Restructuring Committee has been working to create a middle school plan, and the shorter day is something that has come up in discussions. Also in parent forums and staff meetings the issue has been raised, she said.
“But no decision has been made,” she said. “In order for the instructional time to be cut, most likely the restructuring committee would come up with a recommendation as a part of their plan and present it to the board. The board members would have to discuss it and take action.”
While many parents at the registration meeting at Martin Murphy were up in arms about instructional time being shortened, Wolfskehl said there are advantages to a shorter school day for seventh and eighth grade students.
“Most of our students start the day very early in the morning and they are very tired by the end of the day,” she said. “It is a really long day for them. The last class or two, they are a little less fresh and possibly less receptive. If they are at school an hour less, students will have more time for completing homework while still fitting in other activities.”
Many times, said Wolfskehl, students participating in school athletics have to miss sixth period because the other middle school teams they play have an dismissal time. And, she pointed out, it would be easier for students to take advantage of the afterschool homework club if the day was an hour shorter.
“I think the people in the state Department of Education who set the requirement for a certain number of instructional minutes had reasons, including a physiological reason, why they chose the numbers they did,” she said.
Britton Middle School Principal Jim McDonald said he has discussed a shorter day with his staff.
“We’re supporting going to the middle school minutes, to come in line with the instructional minutes proscribed by state and the ones most middle schools use,” he said. “Especially for our seventh graders, it seems to be maybe a more appropriate length of time for our seventh and eighth graders.”
McDonald said he told parents this was an issue that would have to go to the board but there are several options.
“I looks like what would make the most sense is to cut the yearly minutes to 55,715, or chop 46 minutes off of each school day, roughly seven or eight minutes from each period,” he said.
A shorter day would also benefit the teachers, Wolfskehl said.
“This change could make more articulation between the schools possible,” she said. “Sixth grade teachers from the elementaries have had a much earlier day, making it hard for them to collaborate with the seventh grade teachers.”
Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers President Donna Foster said she believes the union would not object to shortening the middle school day.
“This is a change in working conditions, one of those negotiable items, but I think the union certainly wouldn’t object to the change,” she said. “They would have to consult with us on any change in the contract, but this seems to be a favorable one for us. The ninth graders need more minutes, but the state recommendation for middle school students is less. What parents need to understand is that seventh and eighth grade is certainly a survey and an introduction to more advanced learning, and it is about building a solid foundation before moving up to high school.”
According to McKennan, the discussions on shortening the middle school day need to continue.
“We need to have some conversation with the board and staff members, with recommendations from the Middle School Restructuring Committee, to discuss what this should look like,” she said.