On Tuesday night, November 25, dozens of Parsippany students, parents and teachers gathered at the Board of Education meeting to hear newly appointed Superintendent Scott Rixford’s plans for a completely revamped schedule at Brooklawn and Central Middle Schools.
The proposal would replace the current nine-period schedule with seven periods and a 30-minute lunch. Sixth grade students would take five days of all the core subjects (Math, Social Studies, Language Arts, Science, and Reading and Writing), while seventh graders would take only three days of Reading and Writing and eighth graders would have Reading and Writing eliminated entirely, to be replaced by “STEAM” electives like Imagineering, Young Makers and Robotics.
Physical education, which students currently take everyday, would be reduced to three days a week for sixth and seventh graders and four days a week for eighth graders. All periods would be extended from forty to fifty minutes.
Of the dozens of students, parents, teachers and district alumnus, not one attendee spoke in favor of the proposal. Nevertheless, the Board voted almost unanimously in favor of the plan. Mr. Berrios, who expressed concerns about voting on the matter just hours after many of the Board members had heard the plan, was the lone dissenter. The vote comes in the wake of weeks of tension between Parsippany teachers and the Administration, over issues ranging from a controversial new dress code to the disrespectful manner with which many feel the Administration addresses teachers and their union representatives.
Several current students and their parents expressed concerns about cuts to the music program, while others worried that cutting time from lunch and not having physical education classes everyday would contribute to student anxiety and lead to less productive class time.
Others worried about who would write the curriculums for these new courses. One parent questioned why the Board insisted on surveying parents and hosting a special Saturday meeting before deciding on a lunch services contract, but was willing to completely revamp middle school education without taking into account the views of a single parent, student or teacher. As she so poignantly asked, when did lunch become a higher priority than education? However, by far the biggest concern was the damage the proposal would do to the Reading and Writing program.
Superintendent Rixford responded by focusing on the issue of student choice: if an eighth grader wants to take Robotics instead of Reading and Writing, he should be allowed to do so. Rixford acknowledged parent concerns about cutting Reading of Writing by suggesting that he will add additional electives that focus on the skills currently taught in the Reading and Writing Curriculum.
Rixford’s argument misses the larger point; basic reading and writing skills that are requisite for student success should not be optional. His proposal misses something that all parents and teachers already know to be true- a twelve year old may prefer something, but that does not mean he should get it.
It is unclear exactly what the daily lives of Parsippany middle school students will look like next year. What is clear is that many Parsippany residents are growing increasingly frustrated with a Board that ignores their wishes and denies teachers the tools they need to be effective in the classroom.