USD 232 middle schoolers will have shorter classes next year — Here’s why

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USD 232 in De Soto will shorten class times in its middle schools to allow time for students to take new exploratory courses.

The USD 232 Board of Education on Monday voted 5-2 to approve the changes. Board members Stephanie Makalous and Chad Philhour cast the dissenting votes.

An audience of about 30 people, including USD 232 staff and educators, weighed in on the proposal. Ultimately, a majority of board members decided they were for it.

“We’ve got middle school administration who’s in support of this,” said board member Ashley Spaulding. “Anecdotally, we’ve heard there’s a lot of support in the building for this proposal. I do kind of have to defer to you all who are going to be impacted.”

The changes will shorten classes throughout the school day

Changes to schedules include:

  • Reducing class times by six minutes, from 49 minutes to 43 minutes per class.
  • Adding an eighth course to students’ schedule to allow them to take an “exploratory” class like Band, Choir, Theatre, Engineering Tech or other courses.
  • Adding an additional 25 minutes per day for all students to get reteaching and support.
  • Allowing time for vertical alignment sessions, or professional development, among instructors teaching the same subject across different middle schools.

All three of the district’s middle schools — Mill Creek, Lexington Trails and Monticello Trails — will be impacted by the changes.

A task force recommended the changes

The changes were recommended by the Middle School Course Scheduling Task Force, a group made up of middle schools teachers and administrators, as well as a high school Fine Arts teacher.

Jennifer Smith, principal at Monticello Trails Middle and member of the task force, said that in the current system, exploratory classes were available for two courses of the day, along with their five core classes like math, science and social studies.

“If a student needs support, if they have gaps in their learning with the courses that are required, they were having to give up their exploratory hours to get that support they needed,” she said.

With the extra course added to the school day, Smith said, those students would be able to take an exploratory class that they would have originally had to sacrifice.

In public comments, teachers praised the plan

When the board opened the floor up to comments from patrons, most spoke positively about it.

“Most, if not all, students do not come to school excited for reading, math, pathways, science and social studies. They come for exploratory classes,” said Jennifer Wackerla, a science teacher at Lexington Trails Middle. “Yes, that rips off a piece of my heart to admit it, but it’s true.”

Teachers on the task force, like Jesse Smith, a physical education teacher at Lexington Trails, and Leigh Ann James, an English language arts teacher at Monticello Trails, praised the opportunity for teachers of similar subjects to collaborate with their counterparts in other buildings.

“Having a schedule that would allow us to meet with our counterparts in the other buildings would go a very long way,” Smith said.

Stephanie Makalous
Stephanie Makalous. File photo.

Not all board members support the changes

At the meeting, Anne Hartmann, an English language arts teacher at Mill Creek, expressed her opposition to the new schedule.

She worried the shortened class times would have a negative effect on the students’ education and their knowledge of the subjects being taught.

“Teaching a subject for a shorter duration each day may limit the depth of content covered, as well as the opportunities for meaningful engagement and reinforcement,” she said.

Makalous, who voted against the project, praised the teacher collaboration aspect but ultimately soured on reducing class time.

“I think there’s other things we need to do before we take away minutes from our core time, because that is our measure at the end of the day,” she said.

What’s next for the changes

With the changes approved, the task force will help develop a plan for implementing the changes starting next school year, Smith, the task force member, said.

“We have our incoming fifth graders coming up at the end of March to all of the middle schools, so we want to make sure that we have a plan in place and are ready to share with them what next year will look like and the exploratory classes that they will be able to have,” she said.

Other USD 232 news: What USD 232’s new superintendent says he learned from feedback tour

About the author

Andrew Gaug
Andrew Gaug

👋 Hi! I’m Andrew Gaug, and I cover Shawnee and Lenexa for the Johnson County Post.

I received my bachelor’s degree in journalism from Kent State University and started my career as a business reporter for The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio.

I spent 14 years as a multimedia reporter for the St. Joseph News-Press before joining the Post in 2023.