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Branded a school in need of improvement two years ago, North Park Middle School climbed back to respectability last year and is initiating programs to improve academic performance even more this year.

Principal James A. Snyder said during a meeting of the School Board on Wednesday that his staff has taken several steps to help pupils improve to above average.

The school has eliminated study halls and halved lunch periods to 20 minutes so pupils can receive academic help, Snyder said.

Computer technology will help teachers learn if children are facing academic problems, he added.

"We don't have study halls any longer. Study halls are now academic support labs that provide pupils with help," he said.

The focus will be on reading, writing and English through January and math and social studies through June, Snyder added.

Pupils performing at lower levels are placed into small groups of six to 10 so they get more individual attention.

Pupils working at higher achievement levels get more challenging assignments, Snyder said.

"It has already shown improvement. We continue to move forward," he said.

As a result, Snyder said, scores are expected to improve on this year's state assessment tests for eighth-graders.

Ninth period, the last period of the day, is now a 39-minute "prep session" for pupils who don't need additional support to better themselves. Instead, they read novels.

"At the end of a student's eighth-grade school year, they will have completed 16 novels that they would not have read otherwise had it not been for this ninth-period reading preparation time," said Snyder, adding that improved reading skills are important to student improvement in all subject areas, including math.

The school has also initiated "E-instruction," which helps a teacher track a pupil's progress by computer.

"The program allows teachers to know every student's progress at any given time by providing immediate feedback," he said.

Snyder said teachers don't have to wait months for the results of assessment tests to determine if a pupil needs help.

Instead, a computer program detects subject areas that need immediate attention and offers a program to help tackle the problem.

Pupils also are getting assigned more homework.

Snyder said nightly homework that took 45 to 62 minutes to complete will now take from 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the grade level.

He said sixth-graders, who have been getting an average of about 46 minutes' homework, will be getting 60 or 70 minutes. Eighth-graders who have been getting about 62 minutes of homework will be getting 80 to 90 minutes of homework each night.

And parents can go online to keep in touch with teachers and determine if their children have homework or if they are progressing or regressing and what they can do to help.

Several other programs designed to improve student achievement have also been implemented, he added.

Board member Renee A. Knight told Snyder, "I'm delighted with that approach."


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