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Adding it all up
Committee ponders how 7 + 7 can equal more than 8 + 8
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There were a lot of good reasons stated back in 1997 when USD 428 decided to switch from a seven-period day to block scheduling at GBHS, and there are several good reasons today to make the case for switching back, said GBHS Principal Tom Friess Monday evening at the BOE meeting.

Currently, students at GBHS take eight classes taught in blocks of either 84 or 93 minutes.  The week is split into “red” and “black” alternating days.  This means during one week, students attend “red” classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and “black” classes on Tuesday and Thursday.  The next week, red and black days switch.  

On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, they also attend a 34-minute advisory period following lunch where students can meet with teachers for help with class work, attend club meetings, or do homework.  

Students in choir or band have a modified block schedule, with two split periods 45 minutes each.  They will meet with the band or choir director for 45 minutes each day, and attend another class during the additional 45 minutes each day.  

In a seven-period schedule, students will take seven classes per semester, meeting daily for each class.  The committee is considering adding an additional “zero hour” class for students that would like to take an additional class that will not fit into the regular schedule, Friess said.   

When the district decided to switch to block scheduling 14 years ago, educators believed students would benefit from longer uninterrupted periods of teaching, Friess said. They also felt that as teachers were required to meet with fewer students during a school day, this would enhance teacher and student relationships. Lab classes would also be more effective because there would be more time to complete work and discuss results.  Fewer passing periods would mean less time monitoring hallways, and fewer opportunities for incidents requiring disciplinary action.  Students were able to choose the same number of classes per semester, and the cost to the district was minimal, he said.  

“Students don’t seem to be benefitting like we thought they would,” Friess said.   In fact, teachers have indicated students’ attentions spans begin to falter during a 90-minute class period, and do not remain focused on lessons.  A committee of teachers at GBHS  was formed to evaluate the pros and cons of block scheduling versus a seven-period day, and the majority feel students will benefit from shorter class periods and increased frequency of class time with teachers, he said.

“Retention of material is higher when students meet with teachers every day, especially in subjects like mathematics,” Friess said.
The administration looked at the number of minutes students spent in class each week.  

 Block:  Red classes meet twice one week for 93 minutes each, and three times the second week for 84 minutes each.  This equals 438 minutes over a two week period.

7-Period:  All classes meet each day for 50 minutes (M-T-Th-F).  On Wednesday, an advisory class is added, and all classes meet for 45 minutes each.  This equals 490 minutes in a two week period.   

With 52 more instructional minutes per class every two weeks, over the course of a school year a seven-period schedule provides 936 additional minutes of class time for each class per year (52 x 18). That is just short of two additional weeks of school.

When Friess presented the information to the USD 428 school board Monday evening, Public Information Director Jennifer Schartz asked where the additional minutes were coming from since the length of the school day would not be altered.  Friess explained because classes would be shorter, teacher planning time would be lessened also.

“The negotiated agreement says that a teacher will have a planning period equal to the length of one class period,” he said.  

Allowing students to only take seven classes instead of eight also factors in.  That’s where the optional “zero-hour” class would be useful for students who would like the opportunity to have additional instruction.  This class would meet outside of regular school hours, either before or after school, Friess said.

Currently, students are required to earn 24 credits to graduate.  There are 28 opportunities to earn these credits.  This has been the case since before the district switched to block scheduling in 1998, Friess said.  For the 2005-2006 school year, the district eliminated the Seminar class which was essentially a study hour, and added an 8th class to the Block schedule.  Switching back will retain 28 opportunities to earn 24 credits for graduation, he said.

USD 428 Curriculum Director John Popp said as the district transitions to Common Core standards, the students would benefit from additional instructional time and frequency of class time with teachers, but shorter planning periods would make it more difficult for teachers to find time to collaborate, an important factor in successfully implementing Common Core standards.

At GBHS open house, Friess asked parents to take a survey indicating their preference for maintaining block scheduling or switching to seven daily periods.  He said the results gleaned from the 147 surveys returned were split nearly in the middle.  Those in favor like the idea of students having more frequent class time with teachers.  Those opposed are concerned with the level and frequency of homework students may be required to do.  Both are concerned about how scheduling affects participation in sports and extracurricular activities or after-school jobs.

“Some parents and students are concerned that if students meet with all seven teachers every day, the amount of homework assigned each day will double, and there will be less time to complete assignments,” Friess said.  What will likely happen is homework would be adjusted accordingly.  The amount of work on a daily basis could be reduced, or assignments would be due in two days instead of at the next class period, or some combination that is appropriate, he said.  

“Class time missed due to activities will change too,” Friess said.  “Even though more classes could be missed, it is a shorter period of time before they meet with their teachers again.”

Currently, if a student misses a class due to illness or a school-sanctioned activity, they will not have another class with that teacher for two days.  That means as they could go nearly a week or more without instruction in that class, which makes catching up and retention of lessons a challenge, Friess said.  

Superintendent Dr. Tom Vernon said the school board will have time to consider which scheduling will best serve USD 428 students, and to discuss the proposed changes with patrons.  A decision will need to be made later this fall in time for class scheduling in the spring, he said.