Teachers rip school schedule

More than 40 teachers unhappy with the recent approval of a new class schedule at South Whidbey High School surprised the South Whidbey Board of Education with an attack on the change.

On the heels of that approval last month, Superintendent Martin Laster and the four school board directors present at the meeting at the South Whidbey Intermediate School were handed a letter signed by 41 high school teachers and staff objecting to the new schedule and asking the board to rescind its adoption.

The letter pulled few punches as read aloud by four teachers representing the others at the meeting.

"Since the South Whidbey School Board and District administration adopted the new high school schedule, low teacher morale is permeating every aspect of our working environment at the high school," said high school drama teacher Mike McInerney. "We are feeling demoralized, devalued and disrespected."

McInerney and three other school staff members, Judy Burnett, Richard Conover and Bill Patterson, said they were elected to speak for the faculty who had signed the letter. Those teachers present in the audience stood during the entire testimony by the four spokespeople.

The teachers said the schedule in its present form is "unworkable," citing issues of inequitable seat time and instructional time as major points of contention. They said the faculty as a whole had no opportunity to comment on the schedule prior to its approval, and asked that teachers be allowed the chance at "genuine deliberation" on the plan's merits, especially as related to the high school's School Improvement Plan.

The SIP, they said, represents an affirmation of site-based management, which would provide a more appropriate resolution of scheduling issues.

"We believe the board made its decision based primarily upon political compromise," the letter states. "It is our professional opinion that an untried plan should not be hastily implemented."

The teachers said they were committed to working with the administration to increase year-long class opportunities within the existing, four-period block schedule. In their letter, they make some specific proposals:

n Reduction in the number of varying class times from four to two: One for daily, year-long classes and one for extended classes. The adopted schedule contains class lengths of 50, 90, 95 and 104 minutes.

n The opportunity for students and parents to choose between 90-minute single-term classes and year-long classes.

n Reconsideration of the curriculum decision to mandate daily English and math classes for all ninth and 10th grade students. Teacher content this decision should be made by high school staff.

n A longer passing time between classes.

The teachers also questioned the financial wisdom of implementing a new schedule, which will cost the district some hard dollars to have ready for its debut in September.

The teachers' comments did not go unsupported or unanswered.

Pete Wolf, speaking as both a parent a member of the School Improvement Plan committee, described the school as "in an uproar."

"The anger was palpable," he said of a recent visit to the high school.

Parent Todd Manning said he is learning about the impact of the schedule change from his two school-age children. He said teachers will be hampered by the varying time schedules, which he said could limit the amount of teacher-student time.

"Where is the benefit to students and teachers of a change in the schedule?" he asked. "Is anything worth the disruption of class time? The most important time is interacting with the teacher."

On the other side of the issue, Rufus Rose, a frequent board meeting attendee, said he was troubled by what appeared to be a situation of "staff against administration and elected officials" and questioned the teachers' action at Monday's meeting.

"The staff took advantage of surprise," Rose said, adding that the matter should have been communicated via the board agenda so the public would be able to respond. "Clearly the public is not able to be represented here."

Though school board members had not been apprised beforehand of the teachers' action, they chose to comment during the meeting. Director Jim Adsley said some of the objections of the faculty could be "easily fixed," such as the amount of passing time between classes, or a move of daily year-long classes from fourth period to third.

But, Adsley noted, it was a year-long process that led to the adoption of the new schedule.

"This isn't something that was sprung on them," he said.

Others on the board agreed that the schedule as adopted could be "fluid," as Director Helen Price-Johnson's suggested. Board president Ray Gabelein, Jr. said it was helpful to see the teachers' issues in "black and white."

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