News Feature

Deer Isle
Web exclusive, April 8, 2011
CSD 13 school board upholds decision to change high school schedule

Deer Isle-Stonington CSD Archive
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by Colin Powell

The CSD 13 school board upheld an earlier decision to change the high school’s schedule, defeating a motion at its April 4 meeting to overturn the change.

Members Skip Greenlaw, Vicki Zelnick, Mark Cormier and Andrew Vaughn voted against the motion to stop the switch to a “blue and white” schedule next year.

The vote followed a lively discussion in which several students said the switch will cause hardships, and board newcomer Linda Nelson questioned the process that produced the switch.

The board had voted for the change from a “4-by-4” schedule to a “blue and white” one at its March 1 meeting, before Nelson was elected.

“If you make big changes in an institution, you need to give lead time so you don’t affect students in the midst of the process,” she said.

One student even said her careful plans to take two French classes in her senior year in preparation to attend a liberal arts college would not be possible under the blue and white schedule.

Classes under the new schedule will last all year long and meet on alternating “blue” or “white” days. Under the 4-by-4 schedule students take four 80-minute classes each quarter and can complete a course in half a year.

Greenlaw defended the switch, saying the faculty had been discussing the issue for over two years.

Asked where he stood on the issue, high school Principal Todd West repeated what he has said whenever the issue of a schedule change has come up in the past: that it would be costly in terms of administration time, and less effective in improving student performance than many other projects. He said a schedule change would probably rank 15th or 16th on a list of important changes for the school right now.

Superintendent Robert Webster argued for the change. Explaining his thought process to the board and the audience of roughly 30 students, parents and faculty, Webster said that while the decision last month for the “blue and white” schedule seemed sudden, the process was deliberative. Parents had approached him concerned about “gaps” in their children’s core classes. Under the 4-by-4 schedule, Webster said, a student could take a math class first semester, and then not have another math class until the beginning of the next year.

Webster said the effect could be particularly problematic when combined with new research about student retention of information over the summer months. A gap of nearly six months could pass in which a student did not have either a math or English class, he said.

The student who said she needs two semesters of French next year said she fears she may not get into college.

Webster acknowledged he was “very troubled” about hearing the student’s issue.

Student board representative Sarah Brown also prepared a DVD testimony from peers, all of whom expressed deep concern about how the new schedule would affect their current course load and plans for graduation.

A number of faculty members also spoke out against the schedule change.

Language Arts teacher Lisa Lehto said that while she does not completely disagree with changing the schedule, she wished it had been done more gradually.

For many of her students, an immediate shift would make it more difficult to graduate, she said.

Currently, students who fail an English course their first semester in their senior year can try one more time their second semester. The new schedule would not allow for that flexibility.

“My position is not that either schedule is right or wrong. I was hoping for a hybrid and am concerned with the speed of this decision,” she said.

Board chairman Mark Cormier said while he understands all the concerns, he has his own worry that the board has talked scheduling problems for a number of years now.

“Every year we say we’ll wait another year, and there goes another class,” he said. “After being on the board as long as I have, it starts to take three years to make changes and that’s too long.”

After a plea from former board member Jim Adams to listen to the students and the board’s student representative, the motion was moved to a vote by Nelson.

School board goals

After the vote on next year’s schedule, the board discussed its goals. Nelson handed out a draft document she, Zelnick and Olsen typed up from the board’s retreat at the end of March.

With the distribution of the notes, Greenlaw expressed concern that this appeared to him to be the second time the three new board members had met to do something outside of a meeting. He said the earlier instance was a meeting between the new threesome and a group of math teachers.

Nelson said the math teacher meeting was a coincidence, and that she often meets with teachers when she is volunteering at the school. Olsen and Zelnick just happened to be there as well, she said.

She said the goals document was only a distillation of the board discussion at the retreat and admitted that putting the three board members’ names on the document was not a good idea.

Zelnick said the goals document was “just an effort to get things organized.” Cormier said the document did not add any new information to the retreat discussion and was a good write-up of what was talked about.

As for the goals themselves, Vaughn said a number of them shared a theme of setting higher aspirations for students, faculty and the community. He asked if the goals could be summarized. Still, all board members seemed to agree that the goals need to contain specific, measurable benchmarks and that the progress towards those goals should be monitored on a regular basis.