Block Schedule Controversy Continues

Isabel Owens, Opinion and Copy Editor

After a week-long trial of the recently approved block schedule for next year, held from February 6-10, controversy remains over whether or not the new weekly format is in the best interest of students and staff.  At least one member of the committee tasked with developing the new schedule believes that the district’s efforts to include students in the decision-making process were inadequate and that its attempt to solicit student feedback after the schedule had already been approved shows a flaw in the process.

The “1-4” school week schedule -Monday a traditional day, Tuesday through Friday alternating blocks- was recommended by the schedule committee to superintendent John Nickerson last year and adopted for the trial by the school board.

At the conclusion of the recent trail week, students and staff were asked to complete a survey.

Principal John Walker said the survey data is “already being looked at” by district office administrators and will be reviewed by Campolindo administrators and faculty leaders soon. “We’re looking for themes, trends, both on the positive side and on the critical side, and depending on what we find we may refine, hone, adjust either how we’re preparing for the schedule or some facets of the schedule itself,” he said.

Junior Rachel Brickman, a Leadership student who served on the block schedule committee, said that students were largely excluded from last year’s discussion. “When my vote [for block scheduling] was taken into account, I wrote the superintendent Dr. Nickerson an email saying I think student representation is very important, and I think students were very underrepresented. And if this is for students, you have to listen to what they want to say. And that didn’t really happen,” Brickman said.

“I definitely think that they could have done this better by asking students beforehand how they felt about block schedule. I think the trial week was good, but a trial week is stupid [in soliciting student feedback] if we’re already going to go to block schedule anyway,” Brickman said.

Walker said he “heard some concerns from the Leadership class that some of their suggestions were not incorporated enough into the schedule as it stands now.”  He added that “several Leadership students were on the design committee.”

Brickman said that she and “one kid from Miramonte” were the only students who attended the meetings, though “there were supposed to be more students than there were.”

According to junior William Faoro, a chance to be on the committee wasn’t advertised to students outside Leadership. “I knew it existed, but I also knew that it didn’t impact the decision in any way. There was 3 kids from all 4 schools at a committee and I think 2 of them voted for block scheduling. I don’t think a lot of kids were given a vote,” he said. “I don’t feel like a lot of student opinion has gone into it, because most of the people I know do not enjoy block schedule.”

Brickman voted for block scheduling, though she added a message to the district that she “can’t represent all of the students’ needs in our district, so if you want a block schedule, you need to get more representation.”

Choir teacher Mark Roberts, a member of the committee, said he “did a fair amount of talking to teachers who weren’t necessarily excited about switching to block scheduling in general.” He added, “I know that as an individual and as an individual on that committee that I did a lot of work trying to take into account different peoples’ opinions or concerns.”

“It is tough, though, because people who weren’t necessarily on the committee and didn’t see all of that work we did behind the scenes, they think we must have arrived at that kind of decision hastily. But everything was pretty well thought out and debated. I do think their concerns were acknowledged,” Roberts said.

To students who would have liked a voice on the committee, Walker said “it’s not too late to give your input. Hopefully you did the survey.”

“If they have some opinions that they don’t feel the survey really gave them the venue to [express,] either myself or Mr. Drury or Ms. Findlay would love to sit down and hear. I’m already getting emails, both from students and parents, who have comments, both positive, critical, and then also have questions. So it’s not too late. Nothing’s set in stone,” Walker added.

Social studies teacher Tom Renno encouraged his students to make their voices heard. “At this point in time, the district is finally getting feedback from the students, so I think it’s really important that they hear [students], because [the students] are important,” he said.

Senior Lindsay Easter said she doubts whether student or teacher backlash will result in change. “It was my understanding that they already voted on it and it’s already going to happen, so I feel like [the survey] was maybe just so people wouldn’t get mad,” she said.

“I don’t think they wanted student representation,” said a student committee representative who wished to remain anonymous. “I just don’t think that our input matters that much. I think they’re just going to do what they want to do.”

However, according to vice principal Karen Findlay, administrators “really value the student input and teacher input.”

The administration is “open to looking at all components of the schedule,” and revising them based on survey feedback, said Walker.

Feedback on the 10-minute passing periods was “mixed,” Walker said. “I think part of it was that it was new and students just followed their same pattern and went to class and didn’t realize they actually had 5 extra minutes,” he said. “I’m also curious to look at what students have to say about lunch. It’s not impossible, but there’s pros and cons to having an earlier lunch. You’d have to move one of the instructional blocks.”

“You have to say to yourself, ‘How many people really objected to that late lunch? If we didn’t have a late lunch, where would it be and how would that affect a students day?’,” said Findlay. “So you have to look at a lot of different things because somebody might complain about that, but they might talk about other things that supported having a later lunch. So you have to look at the whole picture.”

Roberts took “informal polls” about block scheduling in his classes and found that underclassmen were “overwhelmingly in favor of block scheduling,” while upperclassmen were “overwhelmingly anti-block scheduling.” “I think that definitely has something to do with what they’re used to or change in general,” he said.

Roberts added that lack of teacher preparation and conflicts with long-term plans made the trial week an inaccurate representation of what next year will be like. “I would just think whether people liked it or disliked it, to not be too hasty about having this week be entirely representative,” he said.

While teacher readiness “might not be a problem” next year, Easter said she is “glad” she’s graduating this year. “For me personally, staying in a lot of these classes for an hour and a half is kind of unbearable. I get tired and unhappy when I have to sit there. It’s not fun,” she said.

Freshman Devon Ashburn disagrees. “It gives you more time to do homework, with the academy periods. It’s less stressful,” Ashburn said.

For the next few months, Walker said he will be planning professional development days and managing split-site teachers’ schedules. “For the teachers who are at 2 sites, I have to work closely with the other principal to make sure that they have enough travel time and they only have to make one trip,” he said.

During state-mandated testing this spring, Walker said “we won’t run the pilot week like we did last time, but we will have extended periods of class time. So that’ll be another opportunity to get used to an extended block of time.”