A Middle School Principal’s Perspective: Challenges to Scheduling a Multi-Tier System of Supports

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    Before discussing scheduling challenges, I should mention an intervention that we have in place. It will come in handy to understand as I progress through this blog entry. You may remember from my last blog post that we offer a “split” Language Arts program in our 6th and 7th grade classes. All students in these grades get both a Literature and Writing class. I described our intervention course for students who need help in Literature, but neglected to do so for Writing.

    We offer Foundations of Writing as an intervention for students who have an IEP with writing goals and have been recommended for the class by the IEP team. The class meets daily and is taken in place of the regular Language Arts/Writing class. It is taught by a certified Learning Support teacher who specializes and is certified in middle level ELA (English/Language Arts) in the state of Pennsylvania. As with any Special Education course, the students must meet educational goals laid out in the IEP in order for the team to recommend exiting the program.

    One of the problems with the type of setup that we have for our Multi-tier System of Supports is the intensive amount of scheduling changes required in order to sustain the fluidity of student placements. As anyone knowledgeable will tell you, students need to be able to move within the tiers in order to get the specialized instruction that they so desperately need. If you have a successful intervention process, any given student may move multiple times over the course of a year. The will require changes to the student’s schedule.

    The way that our system is arranged, students must drop some sort of class in order to fit the intervention into their schedule. We have structured it so that the type of class missed varies for the different interventions. (See my previous post, A Multi-Tier System of Supports for Reading and Literature, for a full description.) While this helps with actually scheduling the students for the intervention, it does make it a challenge to find them a class once they are prepared to move out of the supports. Even though our school is relatively large for a middle school (1,600 students), we are fortunate that our core subject classes have manageable class sizes. Inevitably, some of the larger sections will correspond with a period where interventions are taking place. When a student is ready to move from Foundations of Writing into the core Writing class, for example, that section on their specific team can sometimes be at capacity during that period. This means that our guidance counselors and/or assistant principals have to now pick another section of writing on the team and place the student in there. However, that means that we have to move whatever they were in during that period back to the same class period where they were formerly in Foundations of Writing. Inevitably, this will happen with the students who have other interventions scheduled during the day that cannot be switched. While I do not think there is a tested and tried typical remedy for this conundrum, I do know that it can take several hours in order to move all of the pieces so that the change can take place. I am proud to say that our staff will do just that if it is what is right for children. The teachers and staff are so excited for the student who is getting to move back into the core class, they will move mountains in order to help make it happen. It is this sort of commitment, putting the needs of the children first, that sets apart the average intervention programs from those that are great.

    Another challenge for our program is staffing. As students move through the system, frequently new batches of kids will have new batches of needs. If our 8th grade class has several students who need writing support, we may have to schedule multiple sections for that intervention. What happens when they leave and our new group of students do not need as much writing? What if they need more than one section of decoding? Then we have to try and make the teachers who are certified to teach those areas available. So far, we have been fortunate enough to have teachers who are trained in multiple forms of interventions. If it were not for the passion and dedication of these teachers, we would be in a sticky situation with trying to meet the needs of our ever-changing populations. I can only hope that we can continue to stay ahead of the curve and have teachers who are aware of the latest trends and styles of programming.
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