What to do with the 37 1/2 minutes?
This is a summary of what I came up with; email me if you want a copy of the whole proposal sent your way.
First, I listed all the Mondays-Thursdays from February to June. I also listed the dates of the 6-8 Math Test, the 8th grade ILS Exam, and the 8th grade SS Exam. I saw that those tests divided the time up into four neat blocks, which I called Cycles.
Cycle 1 is from Feb. 1 - March 16th. All the students take their Math exams on March 14-15th. During this time, I think it makes sense to identify those students most in need of extra help in math, and have every teacher offer math tutorials. The students should be grouped based on their specific areas of weakness. This won't be popular, especially with teachers who aren't confident in math themselves, but it does make sense and is probably inevitable. What I have done to make it more manageable is proposed that we end our after school program on January 26th and pay teachers per session to stay after and plan cycle 1 (identify students, group them, prepare permission slips & parent letters, plan the curriculum). Then the first two days of the new schedule, Feb. 1-2, will also be spent getting teachers ready for these classes, planning, PD on math instruction, etc. I think it is crucial to build planning time into the new schedule, though I don't know whether the DOE will allow that or whether they will expect every second of that time to be face-time with students. Cycle 1 classes end Mar. 9, just before the Math Tests, and the following week is spent planning for cycle 2.
Cycle 2 is from Mar. 20 - April 27. The 8th graders will have Science Enrichment Clusters, as the ILS Written Exam is May 3rd. This is not the same as test prep; the idea is that the Science teachers, plus any other teachers interested, offer intensive enrichment classes on one topic, such as the Science of Music, Darwin & Evolution, Kitchen Chemistry, etc. Part of the planning week will be spent looking at the ILS Exam and identifying skills to integrate into each enrichment cluster. The clusters are not intended to go over every Science topic, simply to provide an engaging Science experience that will boost the kids a little before the test. We will not be able to provide this for every 8th grader, and the kids should be given the opportunity to choose their clusters from what is available.
Meanwhile, the 6th & 7th graders will have open-topic Enrichment Clusters offered by all remaining teachers. Topics could include Italian, Robotics, School Newspaper, Art & Math, whatever interests teachers and students. Again, students will choose to participate and will rank their choices of clusters in order to get a good match between students and clusters.
Cycle 2 will end April 27 so that the first week in May can be spent debriefing cycle 2 and planning cycle 3.
Cycle 3 is from May 8 to June 4th. The 8th graders will have SS Enrichment Clusters, as the SS Exam is June 7th & 9th. The idea is the same as with the Science Enrichment Clusters, except topics may be The Sixties, Exploring India (or some other country/culture), Archaeology, Anthropology, etc. Again, planning time will be used to look at the SS Exam and identify skills to integrate into the clusters. The 6th & 7th graders will have another round of open-topic Enrichment Clusters.
Cycle 4 will be open topic Enrichment Clusters for the whole school. The difficulty is that the time at that point is much shorter, with only a few weeks left until the end of the school year. It's possible that it would be better to extend cycles 2 and 3 rather than trying to offer a 4th cycle, although doing this will mean that the 8th grade clusters will no longer align with the dates of the Science & SS Exams. My other idea is that Cycle 4 Clusters could be focused on Physical Education and Art topics, which ought to be more motivating for both teachers and students during the nice weather at the end of the year.
Lingering questions include how to handle teacher absences, what to do about our existing after school program, and what to do about after school classes like my High School Prep class or the Chess Club, which don't necessarily make sense in an enrichment cluster format.
I'm curious what you all think of this proposal, and I promise to post more as my school proceeds with our planning for the new schedule.
*We have got to find a name for this.