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By the bell: School board mulls a timely decision
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Next month, the Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education will be asked to approve an eight-period daily schedule for Great Bend High School, doing away with the seven-period schedule implemented in 2013.

Before that, dating back to 1998, GBHS offered eight periods and block scheduling.

School administrators have weighed the pros and cons at each step. Some of the “pros” of the anticipated change were mentioned as “cons” for cutting back to seven periods in the first place:

• With an extra class available each semester, a student who has to retake a course, such as freshman English, has more opportunities to get enough credits to graduate.

• Students will have more opportunities to add electives. This, in turn, may lead them to explore a career field or discover an area of interest they may want to pursue beyond their high school years.

• More opportunities to take electives means more opportunities to take CTE (career and technical education) classes, or classes where they can earn college credit.

• Although the idea isn’t to add more classes, the school recently added two new career pathways, in biomedicine and teaching. GBHS Principal Tim Friess said the extra period could also allow the high school to offer an ACT preparation class.

The students currently have daily “advisory time” and the proposal cuts that to twice a week. Under the present thinking, a lot of advisory time is wasted or used for doing homework that could be done during the hour before or the hour after school — or even at home.

Teachers’ contracts guarantee them a planning period that is equal in length to a class period. Under the new proposal, they would gain a second planning period for collaboration with other teachers. In fact, back when the seven-period day was being mulled in September of 2012, Curriculum Director John Popp warned that although additional class time and teacher-student contact (in seven periods) would be beneficial, but it would mean less collaboration time for teachers.

On Monday, Friess presented a report to the school board as a “first reading,” indicating the board will be asked to approve the eight-period schedule at its March meeting.

However, students are already enrolling in fall classes under the assumption there will be eight periods. Incoming freshmen started enrolling on Jan. 25 and next year’s sophomores, juniors and seniors started enrolling this week.

“(Superintendent Khris) Thexton informed the board of the timeline that we were working from before the meeting,” Friess said. While he hopes the board will approve the change, it will be easier to drop back to seven classes for enrollment than it would be to have everyone enroll in seven classes now, only to switch to eight later, he explained.

GBHS students weighed in on one aspect of a previous schedule change in the school news site Panther Tales. In September of 2017, reporter Rossiel Reyes noted that, starting in the 2017-2018 school year, advisory time could no longer be used for club meetings. “For many club sponsors and club presidents this new implementation seems like a hard hit to member involvement because now, without in-school meetings, not all students will be available to participate in activities.” Perhaps collaborative time is as important for students as it is for teachers.

School board members are hearing from community members and will no doubt be aware of more pros and cons to the proposed schedule by the time they vote on it in March.

Friess has stated, “Our main goal has always been what’s best for kids.” And, he notes that with hundreds of students, no single plan will ever be exactly what everyone agrees is best.

Even though the schedules are already drawn up, board members made it clear by their questions Monday that they are not going to rubber-stamp this important change. They also want what is best for kids and are examining the evidence. An eight-period day is an option that appears to have many positives. Perhaps any schedule can work so long as the mission is clear and students are allowed some flexibility.