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Little Tradition in Class Format--Jefferson Middle School New in Several Ways
- By Rodger Gribble of The State Journal Staff

One of the first things you notice about Madison’s Jefferson Middle School is that like a showroom automobile, it still has that “new” smell about it. Only in Jefferson’s case the “new” smell comes from freshly cut lumber, mortar, tile cement, and paint. But within about a week, Madison’s newest school will be virtually completed. Final adjustments in class schedules are being made, and the school, now undergoing a new kind of shakedown run, will settle into a near-normal routine. But for Jefferson, the format will bear little resemblance to the standard classroom routine. As Principal Richard Meister puts it: “This is a child-centered-program rather than a subject-oriented approach.” The school’s goals, developed by the staff, specify, because of the importance of decision-making in the life of the adolescent, opportunity for and guidance in decision-making experiences will be an important part of the school program.”

One aspect of the decision-making opportunities offered Jefferson’s students is the fact that the seventh graders are offered either French or Spanish in either and introductory cultural course or a regular course. This gives them the opportunity to sample each subject before deciding which to pursue further. When the sixth grade is added to the school next fall, sixth graders will have the same language opportunities. A modified unified arts program in which all students take some art, industrial arts, and home economics before deciding which to pursue further also is offered. Jefferson now has 411 students; when it adds sixth grades from Crestwood, Muir, Stephens, and Spring Harbor Schools, enrolment will increase to a near-capacity 700 plus.

Jefferson is located on Gammon Rd., next to Memorial High School and replaces Memorial Junior High, which closed this spring. The high school added the junior high’s ninth grade. “We feel we’re off to a good start,” said Meister, who served as Memorial Junior High principal from the time it opened in 1966 until it closed. “The students, parents and supporting personnel downtown have been tremendous, he said, noting that one morning last week 20 volunteer mothers helped out in the instructional media center (IMC). “We feel the cooperation of the kids has been tremendous,” Meister added. “We haven’t had a discipline problem.” Meister also had praise for the school’s teachers. “They should get a lot of credit,” he said, pointing out that some have worked nights and weekends at no extra compensation to get the school operational.

Meister considers the school’s large IMC “the key to the whole building. The whole school is an IMC with branches.” The classroom areas adjoin the second floor IMC, there are no doors, and each classroom is separated from the others only by movable partitions.

Jefferson operates on the 14-period day, with classes ranging in length from 30 to 90 minutes and in size from small to large groups. Each of the three subjects in the unified arts program has its own resource materials center, an arrangement Meister considers “practiced yet delightful for the kids.” In the goals set forth by the staff, the faculty is encouraged “to use its understanding to foster a positive self-image in each student; failure will be accepted as having positive aspects.” Meister explained, “We feel that making a mistake is probably the best learning situation there is, as long as you don’t make it the second time.”