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Junior highs prepare for switch to middle schools

Lake Middle School principal Todd Hochman has been working hard to prepare for the transition.

If you mention boundary changes, or the new East Ridge High School, anywhere within District 833, you may get some frustration and disapproving glances, but one change that is hoping to prove to be more beneficial than controversial is the new grade configurations -- particularly moving from the junior high system to the middle school system.

Four people who are hoping to shed some light on the change, and make the transition as easy as possible, are the four middle school principals -- Todd Hochman from Lake Middle School, Kari Lopez from Woodbury Middle School, Becky Schroeder from Oltman Middle School and Elise Block from Cottage Grove Middle School.

"There are so many proactive pieces in place that we're really excited about the change," Hochman said. "We feel very comfortable that we will be ready when our doors open in the fall to provide a real quality school program -- we have a real clear picture of what needs to happen, it'll just be a learning curve."

Come the fall, some major differences will be seen in the middle schools, besides just housing grades 6-8 rather than grades 7-9. Some of the major differences between junior high and middle school primarily involve the teachers and the curriculum.

Highlighting the differences

In a junior high system, students elect which classes they want to take, much like high school students, whereas in a middle school system, students are required to take core classes, as well as exploratory classes.

The biggest part of the middle school system is the way teachers work in teams to ensure student achievement.

Teachers will work as a team to discuss students on a daily basis to learn what is working, and what areas a student may need help in.

"The teachers will be discuss those kids Monday through Friday all year," Lopez said.

In junior high, students could have anywhere from 10 to 14 teachers every year, but in the middle school system, students will maintain the same teacher all through the year.

Additionally, each school is going to have an overall theme -- LMS is the jungle, WMS is natural disaster, OMS is the Renaissance and CGMS is the mountain range -- and each team will come up with their own team theme and identity. In relation to those themes, each team will do projects and assignments related to them, as well as have t-shirts.

All four principals agree that it's this team system that is going to be the biggest benefit for students because they will have that stability and connection to the school and their teachers, so their school experiences will be more worthwhile.

"I truly believe we are the make it or break it because if we connect kids now, and connect them with the school, that is going to help connect them into high school and continue on," Lopez said. "Children are really going to be connected to the school, they're going to be connected to the staff because of the way it's set up."

The four principals said it is that connection to peers, staff, and the school that will ultimately help prevent students from dropping out.

"If you don't connect with the kids, they'll drop out because I saw it at the high school -- they have no interest, they haven't connected with anyone," Schroeder said. " If the kids connect with the teacher, they will do anything to please the teacher and that's the core piece."

This team system is going to ensure student-teacher interaction and individual attention for each student.

"The system is going to offer teachers more opportunities to focus on students," Hochman said. "In junior high there's a great chance to not be noticed, not to get the type of attention he or she should have, but in middle school there is going to be no excuse for students to fall through the cracks and that's really a big piece."

Increasing student achievement

By focusing more on individual student achievement and taking the time to meet with other teachers, the middle school system could ultimately increase student achievement dramatically, the four principals said.

"We have some very good teams put together and we have very high expectations," Hochman said. "But, ultimately I think you're looking at improved student achievement."

The principals said they have no worries about the teachers adapting to the new middle school system because the one who have stayed, are the ones who want to see it succeed.

"The ones that are here really do believe in the middle school system," Lopez said. "There's almost no limits for teachers, they can just take things and run."

Come the fall, all four principals said they are very confident in the transition going smoothly for everyone and proving to be as successful as they hope.

"It's a big shift but a positive shift," Lopez said. "We're very excited to open our doors."

Kispert can be reached at

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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