Several parents and students added their voices to the growing chorus opposed to the high school’s current Blue/White alternating schedule at the CSD school board meeting on February 7.
The high school switched from a modified four-by-four block schedule last year to alternating Blue/White days this year. This means students may have four courses one day and another four the next, with courses typically lasting for the entire school year. With block scheduling, students had the same classes every day, but courses are typically half a year, with some modifications for foreign languages and upper math courses.
The change was prompted by concerns from some parents that there would be gaps in learning for students—long periods of time without a language arts or math course, for instance. Many teachers and students were not in favor of the change.
High school principal Todd West reported that the same number of students is failing courses this year, but the number of students failing multiple courses has increased. Also, students who are failing this year are failing with lower grades than last year. “I think students are really struggling with the new schedule,” West said. Board member Linda Nelson asked West if the struggles are related to the change, not the actual schedule. West said he thinks the schedule itself is challenging for students. “When you ask students to balance more, it’s more difficult,” West said.
Mike Wood, part-time adult education director, spoke for the second meeting in a row about staff and student concerns with the alternating schedule. “I think we should change back to the block scheduling,” he said.
Parent Michele Sadler-Gove said the board should consider struggling students, as the change was made for the parents of college-bound students, said Sadler-Gove. “What about the average students, the struggling students?” she asked.
Sophomore Deven Olsen said the alternating days are confusing, especially if a snow day or holiday interrupts the schedule. “Every day you have to stop and think, which books do I bring, which classes do I have today?” he said. “Last year I had all A’s and B’s and this year I am on the verge of failing three classes.”
Art teacher Katy Helman said the alternating schedule is also difficult from a teaching perspective. “You lose a lot of momentum,” she said. “Projects are spread out over a long time, and the pace of the class is slowed down. I would go back to the old schedule in a nanosecond.”
Parent Larry Merritt stressed the problems with the block scheduling that prompted the change. “The block schedule wasn’t working,” said Merritt. “I don’t want my kids to just get through school, I want them to strive and be challenged. I want them to join the community and be able to handle more than four things at a time.”
Merritt and Sadler-Gove asked whether a third schedule option had been explored by the administration. West said there are very few organizational options besides the modified block schedule or the Blue/White schedule, and his efforts in school improvement have not been focused on schedule options.
Nelson made a motion for the school board to grant West the authority to choose a schedule. “This is not a governance issue, it’s a management issue,” Nelson said.
There was some confusion during the meeting about whether the board could take action on the school schedule, since it was a discussion item. During the discussion, Nelson withdrew her motion. After some debate, it was decided that at the next monthly meeting on Tuesday, March 6, the schedule would be an action item.
The board then discussed the continuing onging issue topic of administrative restructuring. Board chairman Mark Cormier said he thought the district’s above-average per-pupil administrative costs are due to the depth and breadth of the services for students. “The total may not look good per pupil,” he said. “If we bring it in line to the state [average], we’re going to have to give up some of those services,.” he said.
Nelson said it is not a good idea to view alternatives as something less or a cutting back of services disagreed. “There are ways to achieve really excellent schools with different administration structures,” she said. “We can do it in stages and make gradual changes.” Nelson mentioned dropping the superintendent from three days per week to two days per week, and noted the potential central office move to the high school could be seen as an initial step.
“We’re too small of a system to have so [many] middle guys,” she Nelson said.
Board member Vicki Zelnick said the board needs to make long-term plans. “This is not something we can do in 30 minutes, or even in a special meeting,” she said.
Stephen York, who is running for one of the two open school board seats on March 5, said the board should hire an interim superintendent for longer than the six months the board originally discussed. “The school committee should consider hiring an interim of a year- and-a-half to give itself the time,” he said.
Superintendent Robert Webster said Brooklin and Sedgwick were waiting for an answer about whether the CSD would be leaving the union in the next few years, in order to move forward with hiring a new superintendent in 2013 after Webster’s retirement and also on the decision to move the central office.
The board agreed that the CSD would commit to not leaving the union for at least two years.
In other business, the board briefly discussed budget priorities for the 2012-13 draft budget.
Board member Andy Vaughn said the school’s budget this year is comparable to the budget five years ago. “I don’t think we can cut any more,” he said. He recommended a “modest” increase of 3 or 4 percent in the budget from over last year’s budget, noting that local and county budgets have increased slightly over the past few years.
Nelson said it is important to keep costs down so the Island can afford to continue to support the schools. “It’s our fiscal responsibility to look at these costs,” she said.
Board member Ginnie Olsen said she too is concerned about costs. “We see schools closing all around the state,” she said. “We have just as many residents in the community who are not parents,” indicating those residents may at some point choose to stop supporting the school.
Board member Skip Greenlaw recommended that the draft budget be a “flat budget, and we’ll work from there.”
Greenlaw thanked Andy Vaughn, who will not be returning to the school board after March 5’s town meeting, for his three years on the board. Vaughn in turn thanked the administration and board members.
The next school board meeting will be Tuesday, March 6 at 6 p.m. at the high school.