Glenfield schedule change could push arts to after school
PHOTO BY ERIN ROLL/STAFF
By ERIN ROLL
The Glenfield Middle School community is objecting to plans to move to a class schedule with fewer periods next year, contending the move will have negative consequences for what Glenfield is known for — its arts program.
District officials said the change to longer class periods is state-mandated. But with fewer periods, students and parents are worried that arts classes, which are currently part of the school day at Glenfield, will be pushed to after-school hours in order to create more time for regular academic classes and PE classes. That, students said, would make the arts program less robust, and restrict access only to students whose families could afford after-school transportation.
Superintendent Kendra Johnson and Glenfield Principal Cheryl Hopper did not respond to multiple requests as to whether the arts classes will be moved to after-school hours with the new schedule.
Glenfield is the only middle school that does not run on a “block schedule.” The school currently operates on a nine-period schedule with 42 minutes classes. Under a block schedule, classes run for longer lengths of time, which translates to fewer class periods.
Both of Montclair’s other two middle schools operate on block schedules. Buzz Aldrin, with its STEM concentration, schedules 80 minute periods, while Renaissance with its rounded out curriculum, offers a combination of 40 and 60-minute blocks. Next year, Renaissance is shifting to 60-minute only periods.
The state requires 150 minutes of physical education time each week for all students, according to DOE officials. In other core courses, such as English language arts, the state recommends 80 minutes of uninterrupted instruction time for middle school students each day.
Parents also criticized the district for considering the schedule change at a time when Hopper - the fourth principal at the school in a year - is preparing to resign.
A petition was launched on Change.org urging the district to hold off on the schedule change, and to allow the school community to have input on the change. At presstime, the petition had 503 signatures.
“We now have an announcement of major schedule changes that appear likely to seriously disrupt Glenfield’s Visual and Performing Arts magnet theme as well as make significant changes to the teaching of Glenfield’s core classes, but without consistent — or even named — leadership to champion those changes to successful implementation. Glenfield teachers have expressed that they are concerned that these changes were made without soliciting broad input from the Glenfield faculty, and that at least some Glenfield faculty members who sought to share input regarding the schedule change planning were rebuffed,” the petition said.
At the June 17 Board of Education meeting, Johnson said the changes were being made due to recommendations by a consultant in November. Glenfield school administrators requested that a block schedule be explored, she said.
The schedule was announced in a letter sent to parents from the district in June. The letter claimed that students are not getting enough class time in core academic subjects and in physical education, and that the change is state-mandated and therefore “not negotiable.”
“The bottom line is that the current schedule is not meeting the academic needs of our students and the requirements set by the NJ Department of Education. It is imperative that student contact time in the academic core subjects is increased and that the required minutes for PE are met. We have greatly appreciated and taken into consideration the feedback from our families and staff on so many fronts,” the letter said.
However, parents at the BOE meeting stated that the requirements referred to in the letter were not mandatory, but recommended guidelines.
Gina Shaw, one of the authors of the petition, chose Glenfield for her daughter because it offered a “well-rounded education,” with arts programs being as essential to the school as other subjects as English and math.
For several months, she said, students have been coming home with rumors that certain classes, like play production, would either be cut from the schedule or moved to after school hours.
Glenfield social studies teacher Daniel Gill confirmed that even the staff is lacking details of the schedule change.
AN EQUITY ISSUE?
If performing arts became an after-school activity, it would only be accessible to children whose families could easily arrange for transportation outside of school hours, Shaw said. And for children from lower-income families, she said, the arts programs at Glenfield may be the only opportunity they might have to take music, dance or art classes.
Parent Holly Shaw said growing up, her family struggled to make ends meet. The schools she attended provided her with the opportunity to participate in arts programs.
She urged the board to think of what changing the schedule would mean for kids from low-income families. “What about the kids like me, who had to work after school, or watch their siblings, or didn’t have a way to get home?” she asked.
Cynthia Leigh Helm’s daughter participates in the orchestra and the jazz band at Glenfield. A recent performance included a selection from “Carmina Burana.”
“You don’t get this kind of performance from a casual after-school activity,” she said.
The petition noted that Glenfield has been through multiple changes in leadership in recent years, and that it would be unwise to have a major change in schedule before a new principal had a chance to settle in.
The petition calls for a principal search committee to be formed, with membership from among a cross-section of the school’s parents.