CHESHIRE, Mass. — Instead of organizing classes based on ability at the middle school level, the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District will now mix students together.
Superintendent Robert Putnam told the School Committee on Monday that the district has broken away from the idea of keeping classes homogeneous and now will now bring children of different capabilities together in Grades 4-7.
"One could reasonably assume that tracked classes, classes comprised of high-achieving students, should have provided curriculum and instruction that resulted in a higher percentage of students performing in the advanced range," he said. "This was not the case."
He said Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessement System scores from the past few years reflected no benefit from a homogeneous model and this new organization method is both a national recommendation and used by neighboring school districts.
Putnam said there will be "flexible ability grouping" within classes and that students will be divided up within the classroom based on a formative assessment.
"While teachers provide instruction to one group, the other students work independently engaged in cooperative group activities or computer instruction," he said. "The teacher rotates among these groups so each student receives a dose of teacher-led instruction."
Putnam said this new structure is beneficial because there is less risk of students being stigmatized for being in a "dumbed down classroom" and a teacher's expectations for all pupils will remain at a higher level.
Higher-performing students will also be able to help struggling students, he said.
School Committee member Darlene Rodowicz said the new organization will only be successful if the teachers receive the proper training.
Putnam agreed and said the bulk of professional development currently is centered around the new model.
Rodowicz added that she thought the new model would only work if all students are held to high standards.
"Although we want to make sure there is no stigmatization ... we also want to make sure that all students are challenged," she said.
In other business, the School Committee officially designated Grades 4-7 at Hoosac Valley as elementary.
Putnam said the state requires the district to either label the grade configuration as elementary or secondary to determine time on learning. An elementary school must ensure 900 hours and a secondary school must ensure 990 hours.
Principal Christopher Sposato said this number is already surpassed.
"No matter what the designation is our kids are going to get a lot of education," he said.
The committee also approved hiring representatives from Massachusetts Association of Regional Schools to help the Regional Agreement Committee amend the agreement between the towns of Adams and Cheshire.
The committee will hold its first meeting in early November and the estimated cost of the MARS-facilitated meetings at between $10,000 and $15,000.
Putnam also updated the School Committee on the turnaround plan that he hopes will increase the district's performance and increase its state leveling. The district is a Level 3, meaning not enough students are progressing academically.
Putnam said the district has already reached the benchmarks in the first practice in the plan, improving leadership. He said this was done by implementing leadership teams.
He added that they have yet to meet the marks on the second practice, shared responsibility because the district has been unable to hire a high school interventionist and a mathematics interventionist.
"The difficulty we face right now is just having people apply for the job that are qualified," he said. "It's not a question of our pay scale. They are competitive with our neighbors."
Putnam said he attributes the lack of applications to the arduous budget process earlier this year. The positions had been part of the controversial budget debates that saw the closing of Cheshire Elementary School.
"We had a number of applications but with the defeat of the budget in June, a lot of the applicants were concerned over the viability of the job," he said.
Putnam said the positions may be dropped down to part time in hopes retired teachers might show an interest. He said this would hold the district over until it can repost the positions for the next school year.
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