By ASHLEY AMASON
At an informational meeting held in the Walton Middle School (WMS) cafeteria July 13, Principal Tripp Hope spoke to parents on departmentalization in the upcoming school year.
Currently, WMS is divided into the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade buildings. Departmentalization would designate a math, science, language studies, and social studies building rather than separating by grade. Departmentalization, according to Hope, would better allow teachers in the same discipline to communicate as a student progresses through middle school, ensuring there are no faults or redundancies in their education. As it is, a student’s sixth-grade teacher may never communicate with his seventh- or eighth-grade teacher.
Hope said his number-one priority for students is safety, and explained even with a departmentalized system, students in different grades would not have to interact. Hope gave parents a map of the school showing which walkways sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students would use to change classes. The shared walkways—to the library and cafeteria—would be used by all grade levels, but at separate times and would be monitored.
Priority number two, said Hope, is education. According to research and data, departmentalization shows greater gains in student improvement, primarily in sixth-graders. “Departmentalization takes away the cracks; it allows teachers to plan together, brainstorm, observe,” Hope told parents.
In the question and answer session, parents voiced heavy concerns. Parent Chuck Stevenson told Hope he is concerned about, “safety, common sense, and morale.” Stevenson flatly said he is against departmentalization and felt like it was a last-minute decision.
Hope admitted he should’ve had a meeting with parents earlier in the summer, but did not make the final decision to departmentalize until this year’s Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores arrived in June. Hope presented a chart showing sixth-grade students’ improvement levels far below seventh- and eighth-grade students, particularly in math. Hope told parents he was very proud of WMS students for making it an A school and it was his responsibility to “make sure your child has mastered the standards.”
When one parent accused Hope of using their children as “guinea pigs,” Hope replied, “I would never use your children in an experiment. I want to give them a chance to better excel, to achieve higher. Every child has the same value and every child deserves the same opportunity.”
The issue of same-sex classes was addressed for sixth-graders, but would not be implemented until the 2010-11 school year and would be voluntary. Only the core disciplines would be separated; electives would still be co-educational.
Hope told parents he has an open-door policy and welcomes anyone to speak with him if they have concerns.