Schedules, class time stir debate over school

If anyone left the Community Room at South Whidbey Intermediate School at 11 p.m. Monday with a mind free of confusion, it was because they hadn't been listening during the past four hours.

At a workshop with the South Whidbey Board of Education and an unusually large crowd, members of the school district's four-period scheduling committee presented eight scheduling options for South Whidbey High School students. Drawn up as part of the district's 10-year review of the school's four-period day, the scheduling options are fodder for school board members who need to decide by February whether high school students learn best in long class periods or short.

Based on the how committee member and high school English teacher Steve Clark presented the options, the committee seemed to favor long. Schedules closely resembling the one currently in use at the high school were preliminary favorites, comprising the top three preliminary choices by the 16-member body. But, said Clark to an audience of more than 50 people, these preferences are not definite.

"We are pretty far from a recommendation," he said.

The committee's job is to pick one scheduling option and recommend it to the school board for implementation. Based on Clark's comments, the choice will not be easy. Scheduling options ranged from four-period schedules similar to the one currently in place to a traditional six-period day, and an unusual schedule that gives students eight class periods on Mondays and four during the remainder of the week. Class times in the various options ranged from 35-minute mini-periods to 55-minute standard periods and up to 90- and 105-minute periods for the block schedule options.

Those watching the presentation did not wait until Clark explained the range of scheduling options. Judith Walcutt, who has children at South Whidbey schools but not at the high school, opposed to keeping a four-period schedule. She said schools on this schedule are disregarded by some colleges and universities, especially in the case of students interested in science.

"They are not taken seriously as serious science students," she said.

School board member Jim Adsley struck another blow against the 90-minute class periods the school has used during the past decade. He noted that the number of students transferring out of the high school skyrocketed immediately after the four-period day was introduced in 1992, a situation that cost the district a good deal of money.

"I think we have to ask some serious questions," Adsley said.

But the most contentious discussion centered around the total class, or "seat," time each of the scheduling options offered. Currently the high school has a waiver from the state allowing it to teach students fewer minutes than the 9,000 mandated. The current high school class schedule has students learning for 8,100 minutes a year per class. Only 13 percent of the state's high school's require the same waiver South Whidbey has.

Most of the options Clark and the committee presented were below the state mandate. The only scheduling options meeting the state standard were the traditional, six-period schedule and an option that had students in eight class periods on Mondays and four during the remainder of the week.

Committee member Joe Supsinskas said he wants more student seat time. Prior to the meeting, he surveyed 10 of the state's top high schools to find out how much seat time they build into their schedules. All but one of the schools in his informal study, Bellevue International, either met the state requirement or offered several hundred more minutes per class than South Whidbey High School. Eight of the 10 schools operated on six or seven-period days.

Students need the time the state has allowed the high school the waive, Supsinskas said.

"Those 1,000 minutes are terribly important," he said.

Others argued in support of block schedules. A freshman student who did not identify himself said the longer periods give him time to work through material that would normally be homework with a teacher readily available. The boy's father said block scheduling has made his son a better student.

"This is the first year he has come into his own," he said.

Clark made the case for block scheduling based on comments he has received from the high school's music teacher, Brent Purvis, and science instructors. The current schedule, which has a flexible, split period built into it, allows for daily, year long musical instruction, and provides long periods for science labs. Both, Clark said, help students learn.

Though the meeting was long, even by school district standards, it was primarily an informational session and did not narrow the choice of options. The four-period day committe will do that over the next few weeks. The school board will hold a public hearing about the scheduling options on Feb. 11. The board will choose scheduling option for the high school at its Feb. 25 meeting.

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