Jury Still Out On New Chappaqua Middle School Schedule

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Chappaqua middle school principals Martin Fitzgerald and Martha Zornow said there is room for improvement with the new schedule.
Chappaqua middle school principals Martin Fitzgerald and Martha Zornow said there is room for improvement with the new schedule. Photo Credit: Brian Marschhauser

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. — Extended class periods for Chappaqua middle schools have received mostly positive feedback from students and teachers, but principals Martha Zornow and Martin Fitzgerald said the new schedule is a long way from being perfect.

“There is some dissatisfaction, but I think we have to work through that. I would say the glass is half-full at this point," said Fitzgerald, principal of Robert E. Bell Middle School.

The 2012-13 school year introduced seven 55-minute class periods and one 38-minute lunch period. The previous model used nine 40-minute periods. The changes were made to give more time for core classes such as math, science, English and social studies, despite coming at a cost to non-core classes such as art and physical education.

“I felt from the time that I arrived at Seven Bridges Middle School that 40-plus minute periods felt very short,” Zornow said. “The kids felt very rushed. There was a feeling that more time would give students a chance to dig into independent, small group work.”

Zornow said she polled her school’s teachers, and 12 percent said periods were still too short and 9 percent said the periods were too long. She said she took responsibility as an “instructional coach” to adjust the teachers to the new schedule.

Zornow said it was unlikely the district will return to the old schedule because staff has already been reduced and the current economic climate does not call for new hires. The district is not doing a contrast and compare with the old schedule but looking at how the district can improve the current model, she said.

Several second-language teachers spoke at Wednesday’s school board meeting to lament the loss of a daily class in the new schedule. Second languages previously met 180 times a year for 40 minutes. Now, second-language classes meet 120 times a year for 55 minutes, which is a reduction of 10 hours over the year.

“I think Chappaqua is taking a step back,” said Anita Jones, a Spanish teacher at Bell.

The loss of a daily second-language class is difficult for teachers, Superintendent Lyn McKay agreed, but she is confident they will adjust.

“It is not ideal, but it is, from my perspective, doable,” McKay said. “We kept all the programs. Not as good as they might be if you had them every day, but we have really good teachers who will do a really good job.”

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