For years, 800 or so middle school students in Franklin have been put on teams, essentially creating the feel of several small schools inside the building.
Students would be around the same classmates most of the day, and teachers would work inside the same team with the same colleagues and students.
But high school education is evolving, and students needed to have more of their credits completed earlier so they could graduate sooner or have time for college-credit courses, internships or vocational training.
The result: middle school education in Franklin must change as well.
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Some of the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are ready to take high-school level geometry. Some want to take Japanese. The interest in band and choir programs has grown. The team approach no longer worked.
“It was harder to have teams with introducing all those other classes that kids want and need,” Principal Steve Ahaus said. He’s been planning for the massive change for several years — Superintendent David Clendening called him a visionary — and this became the time.
“It’s important to get them ready to be successful,” Ahaus said. “Every kid should leave the middle school with at least one high school credit if not more.”
As the shift was being made, another change happened. Several teachers changed jobs, took promotions and went elsewhere or retired. That meant that Ahaus had 14 new teachers to hire, giving him the chance to bring in educators who shared his vision and had excitement and the energy that would come with an overhaul.
He wanted passionate teachers who push technology, innovation, creative ideas and who can relate to middle school students. They had to be flexible and have the energy to work through the uproar that comes with change.
“We need the best of whatever is out there, for them to bring their energy to this school,” Ahaus said. “I didn’t tell them I’d like that. I told them it’s a must.”
New teacher Darren Sible has embraced what they face.
“Things are changing for a lot of people. We’re going to have to find our groove,” he said. “It’s going to work great, and I’m really excited to see how we can improve Franklin schools and the community and the city.”
More than two years ago, Ahaus honed in on the needs of Franklin middle school students, achievement data, the best practices of other schools and put together a plan. In January, they started talking to the staff about how it would work.
“We did not go in and say everything has to change,” Clendening said.
Instead, they examined how to guide student growth to its full potential. They looked at reading and writing scores, ways to free up time for all eighth-graders, not just students in high-ability programs, to take high school courses, Clendening said.
The middle school years can be challenging enough, Ahaus said, as the 11- to 14-year-olds are figuring out who they are, have endless energy, are curious but bold and always testing. At that age, students are willing to try anything and will participate in school programs.
“We’ve got to channel that in the right direction,” Ahaus said. “At middle school, you can have a role in molding them.”