Board alters block plan

Susan Nerison, right, passes a copy of South Whidbey High School
Susan Nerison, right, passes a copy of South Whidbey High School's new blended class schedule to Kurt Grant during Monday's school board meeting. The board voted unanimously for the schedule.
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Clearly interested in ending the suspense over which class schedule the high school will have next year, a motivated South Whidbey school board approved a plan Monday that will give students up to six classes per day.

On a 5-0 vote, board of education directors said 'yes' to a schedule that will give high school students up to four year-long classes and two 90-minute block classes per year. The schedule, which is patterned loosely on one used by the high school for the past decade, also promises to increase the amount of class time students receive and to give freshmen and sophomores bigger doses of math and English.

Somewhat different from one option given to the board by the school district's volunteer scheduling committee, the new schedule allows students to alternate two classes within a 95-minute first-period block and to have two, 50-minute year-long classes within a fourth-period block. The first period classes alternated on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. On Mondays, students split the block between both classes.

Second and third period classes at the high school will continue to meet in 90-minute time frames. The plan continues to offer South Whidbey students up to 32 graduation credits.

Though board members saw the modified schedule for the first time on Saturday and in spite of the fact few teachers and scheduling committee members had even seen it, school board president Ray Gabelein pushed hard to approve what he called "a six-period schedule within a four-period schedule" at Monday's meeting. Reminding the board that any modifications in the high school schedule need to come this month in order to make a changeover by September, he said it was time to put a year-long debate of scheduling issues to rest.

"I don't want to see it resurface for a while," he said.

The new schedule came to the board with the blessing of high school and district administrative staff. High school Principal Mike Johnson said the schedule will allow 52 of the school's 208 courses to be taught in a year-long format. He also noted that guidelines included with the staff recommendation would direct students toward year-long or semester block courses based on their performances on standardized tests and in-district assessments.

Gabelein said he did not like the "punitive" tone of that guideline. At his direction, the board amended the approved plan to provide for a re-write of the guidelines.

Several board members had to overcome misgivings before voting in favor of the plan. District director Barb Schneeman said she was not comfortable voting for the plan without more feedback from the scheduling committee and high school teachers. She later relented and added her "yes" vote to the board tally.

Director Helen Johnson objected to an amendment that will make year-long math and English classes for freshmen and sophomores the preferred scheduling norm. However, she approved of the new schedule.

"I think this is a good vehicle for doing what we want," she said.

Another concern the board grappled with was whether there would be enough sections of year-long classes to meet student needs. Principal Johnson said that is something that can be managed.

Johnson said a few teachers polled on the pros and cons of the new schedule did approve of it. On the pro side, it retains longer planning periods for teachers and brings more classes into compliance with the state's requirements for teaching time. But it also increases the length of the school day by about 10 minutes and decreases the length of hallway passing times.

Johnson said his staff needs to get moving to work the bugs out of the new schedule before next school year.

"We need to get rolling," he said.

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