"We really rely on our administrative personnel in the building. They are supportive of the whole teaming process. " —Jill Whitesell
O'Leary Junior High is one of two junior high schools in Twin Falls, Idaho. Enrollment in the Twin Falls School district was about 7000 students in the 1999-2000 school year. O'Leary serves approximately 900 students in grades 7-9 with staff of 40. A refugee center was located in Twin Falls a few years ago, and the school has experienced an increase in the diversity of the student body, especially English language learners.
Six years ago vandalism, high teacher turnover, high numbers of expulsions, low standardized test scores, gangs, and drug usage prompted O'Leary Jr. High staff and a new principal to look into more effective ways to educate adolescent students. Research indicated that the middle school philosophy would address many of the problems facing the school. The transition began with the adoption of the inclusion model and the formation of academic teams of teachers and students.
Principal Wiley Dobbs has been a leader in middle school reform in his building and beyond. He has served as president of the Idaho Middle Level Association and has been recognized nationally as well. Soon after joining O'Leary as principal he began to look for strategies for school improvement at the middle level. One of those was teacher teaming.
Six years later, teaching teams are firmly rooted in middle school philosophy, integrated teaching projects are common, the inclusion model continues, and there is no evidence of vandalism anywhere on campus. School leadership supports innovation and nourishes improvement — change and growth are recurrent themes. Students play key roles in governance, and pride is evident.
With a teaming structure in place, administrative tasks become streamlined, providing more time for in-depth conferences. Curriculum planning can be conducted with teams instead of individual teachers. Students and parents benefit from the coordinated communication and monitoring across the students' courses and activities.
"I don't visit individually with 55 teachers. I go and talk with teams. That gives me much more time to be an instructional leader. I do much less managing, and I am able to really concentrate on creative ideas and ways in which I can remove barriers for teachers." —Wiley Dobbs
"What I appreciate about Wiley is that he's willing to do the research... how is this working at other places? ... so we're not just jumping through the latest education hoop. He will actually gather the data. He brings everybody in on the decision, even our parents. He creates the opportunities." —Meile Harris
With teaming well established, Wiley began researching alternatives to the typical seven-period, junior high school schedule. He prepared a proposal to implement a block schedule at O'Leary. His report addresses the history, pros and cons, and conclusions from experienced schools.
O'Leary operates on an alternating eight block schedule with each block period lasting 85 minutes. Each day consists of four blocks, which rotate every other day. Since school colors are red and white, students operate on a "White Day/Red Day" schedule. Primetime is a "homeroom" time for students and teachers to watch the school's video news show, share successes or problem solve, and discuss school issues.
Daily Schedule — Red Days
Block 1 8:41-10:06
Block 2 10:10-11:35
Block 3 11:39-1:31 (Planning Time — Red Days)
Block 4 1:35-3:00
Daily Schedule — White Days
Block 5 8:41-10:06
Block 6 10:10-11:35
Block 7 11:39-1:31
Block 8 1:35-3:00 (Planning Time)
A Lunch 11:35-12:05
B Lunch 12:05-12:35
C Lunch 12:35-1:05
D Lunch 1:05-1:35
The move at O'Leary to block scheduling has afforded teaching teams the opportunity to develop extended units, as all teachers have one 85-minute planning period each day. Teachers use this block schedule to take advantage of interdisciplinary teaching for in-depth student learning.
In addition to effective leadership, the teachers recognize a team of like-minded colleagues, a block schedule, and district innovation for supporting their success.