Grove City school officials continue to talk through a proposal for block scheduling at the high school – an idea that is generating questions and concerns.
Two parents spoke at Monday night’s work session along with several board members who wondered if block scheduling would be beneficial, and the discussion lasted nearly two hours.
Parent Douglas Gerwick said that block scheduling wasn’t brought to the board’s attention until February. The restructuring committee first came together in September 2017.
He questioned the trips that staff and students have taken to Kiski Area High School, and said that he and other parents believe the school is already meeting the needs of the students.
Assistant Superintendent Dr. Joshua Weaver said that because block scheduling would be a change in the bell schedule, that means it would not need to be approved by the board, Gerwick said.
National Education Association research shows that this kind of change should be supported by parents, students, and community and board members.
His calculations show that block scheduling would result in less instruction time by the end of the school year.
“We’ve lost a third of our instruction time,” Gerwick said.
Administrators have been studying block scheduling for high school students – instead of eight class periods each day that last about 40 minutes each, there would be four class periods each day that last about 80 minutes each.
The classes would alternate every other day, and if the plan moves forward, it would be in place for the 2019-20 school year.
There is a committee that includes faculty and students.
Parent Deb Smiley said that her daughter wants to take some college courses while in high school. She asked how that would work with block scheduling.
“That is concerning to me,” she said.
Smiley, who works in a school, said that teenagers have short attention spans. It may be harder to keep them engaged during a longer class.
She also wants to make sure the teachers are prepared, and that block scheduling is an effective use of time.
Board member Dr. Michael O’Donovan, who is the educational services chair, said he was opposed to the idea at first.
He still has some concerns like special education and teacher preparations, but he’s learned that this is not about just changing a bell schedule.
“This is about a fundamental redesign of our programming,” he said.
There would be a cultural shift and empowerment for the educators. Perhaps the teachers can take an anonymous survey to share their feedback.
Also, concerns from parents and residents need to be adequately addressed, O’Donovan said.
High School Principal Dr. Rae Lin Howard said that she sees a need for block scheduling. It will provide more opportunities for student enrichment, intervention, exploration and collaboration.
“There’s so much more that we could do,” she said.
Each school day would include “Eagle Time” – about 10 minutes for announcements and handing out assignments – and “lunch and learn” – time to eat and work on other things like clubs, driver’s education, or SAT prep.
“The kids are my best resource here,” Howard said of gathering those ideas.
The school would also work around the schedules of students who are taking college classes, she said. Weaver later added that schedules will also be adjusted accordingly for career center students.
Dan Nemeth, who teaches social studies, said they wouldn’t be “mashing together” two classes into one period.
The students would have more time to learn and demonstrate skills during class, receive feedback, and complete an entire debate, for example.
There would be more time for dialogue among peers, Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Finch said.
Committee members have visited schools that use block scheduling, and there have been many meetings with staff and department heads, Howard said.
More school visits are planned along with surveys, and two pilot days to test the revised schedule – most likely April 9 and 10, Weaver said.
If school is delayed because of the weather, the classes would be 51 minutes each. If school is canceled for the day, the four-period schedule would be pushed back one day, he said.
Some students are skeptical, but those who visited other schools have had positive feedback, Howard said.
Board President Dr. Constance Nichols said her son visited Kiski; he was initially against the idea, but impressed after seeing it in action.
The board needs more feedback from parents, she said.
Board member Carolyn Oppenheimer agreed, adding that some parents and citizens feel like they’re given this kind of information at the last minute.
Board member Ray Abplanalp said he’s had many calls from teachers and parents who don’t like the block scheduling idea; they feel like it’s being forced upon them.
“That should be really concerning to you guys,” he said.
He said he thought Grove City was already a good school system, and he asked if block scheduling would improve things.
The district can do more with what it has through this change, Finch said.
“We want to do this with the support of this board,” he said.
The teachers won’t have much time between now and the next school year to prepare, Abplanalp said.
“It’s about teaching, not the schedule,” board member Patty Wilson said.
Board member Roberta Hensel said that block scheduling will give students a chance to see how their peers think and reach the same answer in different ways. It will make them more productive learners.
If the board decides that the staff is not prepared enough to have this ready for the next school year, then school officials will have to keep working on it, Finch said.
“Not yet” doesn’t mean the research done so far is not good, Weaver said.