School District 202 is considering a change to its daily schedule, moving toward a “block schedule” approach that would feature fewer class periods of 84 minutes rather than the current 42-minute periods.
“The core reason for implementing a new schedule would be to support student well-being,” read Assistant Superintendent/Principal Oscar Hawthorne from the report he presented to the District 202 School Board on Dec. 12 on behalf of the School Day Committee.
Under the proposed approach, which, if approved, is slated to begin in September 2014, all Evanston Township High School students would start school at 8 a.m., change classes five times per day and finish at 3:10 p.m. An 18-minute advisory period for all students would be embedded four days a week. Academic support, previously offered in the morning, would meet after school from 3:15 to 3:40 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays. Monday after-school time would be devoted to professional development for faculty.
“How will the decision be made [to implement the scheduling proposal]?” asked Board member Rachel Hayman.
“We will use a consensus-building model,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon. “If it does result in a critical mass to move forward, that is what we will do. If we do this, it will need to make real improvements in our pedagogy.”
Ms. Hayman also asked about outreach to parents.
Mr. Hawthorne said he would be working with the PTSA “to get their feedback through a forum or a survey” and with the parents on the School Improvement Team.
An “extensive review of professional journals provided no compelling evidence that a particular bell schedule would improve student achievement,” reported Dale Leibforth, math teacher and committee member, although, he said, “some of the articles analyzing block scheduling did speak of a positive impact on the variety of instructional methods utilized and school culture.”
Board member Jonathan Baum asked if the committee had looked at what the ETHS experience over the years had been with regard to different scheduling models.
“I’m totally agnostic on block scheduling … and I’m happy to be educated … [but] schedules are implemented and then they’re abandoned and then they’re reinstated [as a way to deal with issues],” he remarked.
World languages chair Kathy Pino said the committee had gathered all of the District’s previous experience and incorporated that information into their analysis.
School Visits and Teacher Surveys
In addition to conducting D202 teacher surveys and information sessions for D202 faculty, the committee also visited two local high schools, Glenbrook North and Homewood-Flossmoor, each of which have had a form of block scheduling for over 10 years and, like ETHS, have more than 2000 students. Like ETHS, Glenbrook North has a wide range of course offerings, while Homewood-Flossmoor is more similar to ETHS in its demographic makeup.
The committee decided that an “AB” block approach, similar to Glenbrook North’s, wherein a student takes eight classes, four of which meet every other day, would be most appropriate at ETHS, primarily because of the large numbers of course offerings available in the District.
An ETHS teacher survey found that 60% of the faculty feels that “a 42-minute class period does not provide adequate time for student learning.” Over 65% of teachers responded that “our current schedule does not allow enough time for students to manage their workload.”
“I talked to hundreds of students and teachers [at the other schools],” said Mr. Leibforth. “The depth of instruction, the ability to challenge students and set them up well for the future, stronger connections, more vertically aligned curriculum” were all benefits that Mr. Leibforth said he thought were provided by a block scheduling approach.
After-School Support Concerns
Board member Gretchen Livingston and student member Jesse Chatz both took issue with offering academic support on Friday after school. Jesse suggested that professional development be moved to Friday afternoon and academic support be held Monday through Thursday.
“I can guarantee that students will not be attending [PM support] on Fridays,” said Jesse. “By Fridays, kids want to be out.” Ms. Livingston also pointed out that students really need the help with homework at the beginning of the week.
Professional Development Needs
Board member Deborah Graham requested a clarification of the kind of professional development required in conjunction with the new scheduling approach.
“Teachers would have to know how to make a class period of 84 minutes effective in terms of student engagement and interest,” said Ms. Pino. She said there would be professional development concerns for all teachers and also subject-specific considerations.
Opportunity for Technology,
Differentiation and Electives
“This is a great opportunity to infuse more instructional technology into the classroom,” added Paula Frohman, director of instructional and informational technology. She also emphasized that an increased use of technology would provide more opportunities for differentiated instruction.
Ms. Graham expressed concern about how electives such as chorus would fare under the new schedule.
“We’re confident in saying that the courses we offer now can be offered in this [proposed] schedule,” said Mr. Hawthorne. “We’ll definitely have to have more conversations about the specialty courses … to make sure that the same opportunities are there for all students.”
Mr. Baum questioned how the new model would affect the implementation of a mentoring program proposed by the School Improvement Team.
“Since this schedule wouldn’t be implemented until the 2014-15 school year, does that mean we couldn’t have a mentoring program until then?” he asked.
“To do a good mentoring program will require professional development for faculty and staff,” said science teacher William Farmer, who is part of both the School Day committee and the committee developing the mentoring proposal. “The timeline on that can’t be rushed if you want a program that will be meaningful and effective.”
Alicia Hart, assistant director of Student Support and Equity, also a participant in both committees, acknowledged that the scheduling presenters had not come prepared that evening to discuss details of the mentoring proposal, which is still in development.