BETHLEHEM – Changes prompted by decreasing enrollment at the Lab School are now being implemented.
For the first time in the experimental school-within-a-school’s 23-year history, necessary class offerings and, accordingly, the overall number of Lab School teachers have been cut.
“Obviously, the goal of Lab School and one of the purposes of the committee was a sustainable model moving forward,” said Interim Superintendent Jodi Monroe during the Feb. 3 School Board meeting.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, a committee of parents and teachers has been meeting to discuss changes to Lab School necessitated by decreasing enrollment. Just last year, as many as eight juniors dropped the four-year program, leaving a senior class of just 17 individuals behind. Most likely, these students dropped in anticipation of the changes, said Monroe.
To address enrollment reduction, two Lab School courses were cut this year, and one will likely be cut next year. This year, both a Spanish course and a French course were cut. Lab School students are now taught languages by Bethlehem Central High School teachers in a half in-class, half-online structure. Next year, if there are not enough students enrolled (the district does not expect there will be), advanced math students in Lab School will be asked to take either AP Calculus or Calc AB in the main school, as only five students would be eligible for the Lab School equivalent. In future years, the class may be re-added.
When former Superintendent Tom Douglas first announced that the Lab School and Chinese programs would be cut in April 2014, many disgruntled parents argued that removing the classes would greatly disrupt the Lab School format that they and their children had chosen. By taking these language (and later math) teachers away from the lab school, there would be fewer teachers remaining for the one-on-one time mentoring projects that the school prides itself on, said the protesters.
Since that time, a Lab School founder and its previous director, Stephen Smith, has taken a new position at Bethlehem Central Middle School. A science teacher has also left the school, and some Lab School students have begun referring to their school as “Lab School 2.0.”
Yet, current Lab School Director Mike Mitchell believes that some of the changes turned out to be positive. “We did have to remove a world language teacher from the program, myself included,” said the Spanish teacher, but with Lab School students taking language outside of lab school, this gave the opportunity to advance earlier on.
And, as Interim Superintendent Monroe explained, these changes were necessary to sustain the school.
“In ninth grade there is a waiting list to enter, but if you get into junior, senior year, there aren’t as many,” she explained. The three classes cut from the program were especially hard to fill as the students got older, and BCHS policy dictates that classes with less than 17 individuals enrolled must be cancelled.
Incoming ninth grade class sizes were raised from 25 to 30 people in anticipation of decreased enrollment in junior and senior years, and the three classes were cut. Other changes to the Lab School core were the result of replacing administrators and teachers, especially after a few of its founders retired.
Lab School was conceived in 1992 by a group of teachers and administrators seeking innovation in teaching. Students – up until now – only take classes with other Lab School students, and for the most part, the teachers remain the same for all four years of high school.
Previously, Lab School students’ only enrolled in advanced placement classes, but now Lab School students are venturing out into non-Lab School classes in the high school.
These changes were not only introduced as a result of committee meetings, but were also made to help retain students in the program. A new policy would not allow students to drop the Lab School program once they get to the half year point in the academic year, as is the policy with other BCHS classes. Students may still drop remaining classes at the end of the year. As well, a new research class helps students with the large research projects they conduct.
“We added the additional research class this year,” said Monroe. “It’s the first time the Lab School has had a scheduled research class for all four levels.”
“We’re trying to maintain what makes Lab School Lab School, which is to maintain a strong community of students, parents and teachers. When it came down to it, some of changes these really don’t effect that,” said Mitchell.
The committee plans to hold an official unveiling of changes this spring, along with recommendations to further assess the program.