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by Colin Powell
Despite opposition from 93 percent of the student body and comments from faculty that, while not perfect, there are more important things to change than the class schedule, the CSD School Board approved a recommendation from Superintendent Bob Webster to change the high school’s “4-by-4” master schedule to a “blue-and-white” format. The vote was at a March 1 meeting.
Presenting his recommendation, Webster noted that over the last several school board meetings, a point was well made that there are learning gaps as a result of the 4-by-4 schedule, such as students commonly having at least one semester between the time they take a math or English class and the time they take their next math or English class. He also noted that while many different types of schedules were reviewed over the past few months, the blue-and-white schedule would be easiest to switch to, given preparation already made for next year’s master schedule.
Both 4-by-4 and blue-and-white schedules are types of block schedules. Under the current 4-by-4 master schedule, students take four 80-minute classes each quarter. Webster explained that under a blue-and-white schedule, students would take six to eight classes and most would last all year and meet every other day for 70 minutes.
Late last year, at a candidates’ forum for state elections, the school board heard from a number of parents who felt 80 minutes per class was too long, and had concerns about students with very light schedules one semester and very difficult schedules the next. The same criticisms had been voiced at a number of school board meetings over the past year.
“This is not a recommendation that [the blue-and-white schedule] would be universally acclaimed, but it would address what I see as a fundamental problem with the 4-by-4,” said Webster.
As soon as Webster presented the idea, student representative Sarah Brown distributed the results of a survey she circulated on the subject and noted that nearly the entire student body was against the schedule change. She commented that the current schedule helps her by allowing her to take two math classes each year instead of just one. She asked the board to carefully consider any change in light of the opinions of the student body.
Assistant Principal Mike Wood also voiced some opposition to changing the schedule, adding that whatever schedule is used there will be parts of it that work well and parts that do not. “There are plenty of ideas to improve the schedule, but we need a schedule that will stay constant,” said Wood. He urged the board to consider using the next school year to take a long hard look at possible schedule changes and make any change slowly and carefully.
In response to a board request for data about how different schedules affect student performance, West said gathering such data is difficult. He pointed out the difficulty of establishing a baseline of performance under one schedule, when the school is actively changing many things at the same time to improve student performance.
Asked directly by board chairman Andrew Vaughn, Webster said that despite the opposition, his recommendation remained to move forward with implementing a blue-and-white master schedule. Put to a vote, the new schedule was approved by a majority of the board (4-2, Sargent, Kumiega). (This was Walter Kumiega’s last school board meeting.)
In other business, the board failed to approve a one-month extension of Reach Director Nelson Monteith’s schedule. Webster had recommended the extension because otherwise Monteith’s schedule would end on June 30 and the new director would begin on July 1. With some overlap, Webster felt the transition between directors might go more smoothly and help the summer arts camp program be more successful.
Board member Skip Greenlaw voiced his opinion that the extension would cost $5,200 and people are constantly asking him to keep tax increases to a minimum. “I just don’t feel like this is the best use of our funds,” said Greenlaw. The motion to approve the extension failed in a tie vote, (3-3, Greenlaw, Nevells, Cormier).
Updating the board on the move towards adding a foreign language program in the middle school, Webster said a recent meeting with 14 members of the community on the subject provided some good ideas for where to go next. He said Spanish emerged as the most popular language, though there was also an idea to expose students to a variety of languages. Webster also said that even if a foreign language program is not added in the next few years, there is interest in at least starting a foreign language club after school.
The next step, said Webster, will be to see what the budget looks like. He also noted that with new staff in the central office, the budget may not be ready as early as he had hoped, so that discussion may not start until the next board meeting.
The board also reviewed the first draft of the 2011-12 school calendar. Webster said the biggest feature is the start of the year after Labor Day, despite the holiday falling on September 5, making the start of school later than usual. He said the reason was because most of Hancock County seems to be trending in that direction, and it would have the least impact on students who attend school off island, or families across the Reach who send some kids to the Island for school and some kids elsewhere.
Both Vaughn and board member Don Sargent expressed an interest in looking at how to best use the last few weeks of school, as the current tradition of beach days and field trips leads to “not a lot of education going on,” said Vaughn.
Finally, the board approved two grants. The first was for $1,800 from Healthy Peninsula for one-time integration of the school greenhouse into the elementary school curriculum. The second was a $750 grant for the high school from Kids Consortium to aid in curriculum development with a focus on building integrated units for teaching math and reading across the curriculum.