Mesa’s junior high schools need an upgrade if they want to compete with neighboring districts, school officials told the Mesa Unified School District governing board Tuesday night.
“We are the only district west of the Mississippi River that doesn’t have a full year of seventh- and eighth-grade science,” said Michael Cowan, associate superintendent for educational services in the Mesa district.
And Mesa’s junior high days are 30 minutes shorter than those at most other Valley middle schools.
District officials unveiled a draft proposal Tuesday that would change the curriculum, schedule and course offerings at the district’s 13 junior highs.
“This isn’t something that is a frivolous idea that would be nice for our kids,” Superintendent Deb Duvall said. “This has got to take priority in our budget. Our youngsters need to be competitive.”
The district is proposing more science courses for seventh- and eighth-graders, who would take two semesters of science both years. Currently, they take one semester each year.
Cowan said the need comes as part of the national push for increased science instruction, as well as the fact that the state is adding a science portion to Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards.
But the changes have some board members worried because new schedules could mean less time for physical education, music and art.
“No one wants to get rid of electives . . . and yet the requirements keep increasing,” board member Mike Hughes said. “You really can’t win.”
Under the proposal, students would receive two semesters of electives each year.
Students who wish to participate in more electives could pay $150 per semester to take a course before or after school. Students who are falling behind and need remedial courses during the day could take one of those classes for free.
Ann Riekena, whose son attends Rhodes Junior High School, said she’s not sure about the proposed changes.
“I know how important the academic curriculum is, but I really struggle with taking away PE, when our society is in such dire need of exercise and physical movement,” she said.
There are other challenges that come with adding science courses.
With space already at a premium from new full-day kindergarten programs, board members raised concerns about where they would find space for more science classrooms. The district would also need to hire about 40 new science teachers.
Duvall said the district will schedule at least one community forum for parents to weigh in on the proposed changes.
Middle school proposal
The Mesa Unified School District draft proposal recommends:
• Allowing accelerated seventhgraders to test out of their required reading class.
•Increasing the junior high day by 15 minutes, with all schools starting at 8:55 a.m.
•Allowing Kino and Mesa junior high schools to use a modified block schedule that would give them 126 more hours of math and reading instruction each year.
•Decreasing class sizes in junior high English classes to lighten teachers’ workloads.
•Taking one semester of electives away from most eighth-graders.
•Decreasing seventh-grade physical education requirements to one semester.
•Requiring an additional semester of science in seventh and eighth grades.