VAHS block schedule plan back for 2015-16

90-minute classes at VAHS would help planning, intervention
Scott Girard

After another year of planning, the seven 50-minute class period schedule once again appears set to become history at Verona Area High School.

A “block schedule,” featuring three classes up to 90 minutes each and two “skinny” blocks – a full block split in half – would replace the current schedule in 2015-16 under the proposal.

The change aims to give teachers more collaboration time and a dedicated period for intervention time with struggling students, while also rewarding successful students with more choices.

“Not all students have the ... ability to access their teachers before or after school,” VAHS principal Pam Hammen said. “That becomes an equity issue. The idea was, ‘How could we provide an opportunity for students to access teachers to get additional support during the school day?’”

That had also been a goal when the district first proposed the block schedule in 2012, and the schedule was almost in place for the 2013-14 school year before a leadership committee voted to delay the plan over concerns about how the resource time would be implemented.

That schedule had students taking four 90-minute classes one day, with three different classes on alternating days. The fourth 90-minute period on the alternate days would have been used for collaboration time and extra support.

The new proposal instead has students taking three alternating 90-minute classes each day, with one “skinny” class – 45 minutes – at the end of each day. The other 45 minutes would be used around lunch, in what’s called the “A+” period.

Some students would have lunch followed by the A+ period, while others would have the A+ period and then lunch.

Although details are left to be worked out, VAHS teacher Annalies Howell, who worked on the scheduling subcommittee on the project, said the basic idea would involve finding which teachers would be available for which of the A+ periods and then assigning some students to certain teachers. Other students could choose what teacher they spend time with, if they want to at all.

“What we’re hoping this would do is provide some flexibility, so if you have a student that decided to stretch and take an (Advanced Placement) course and they need that extra time with a teacher two or three times a week, this could be that time,” Howell said. “The way that it’s set up right now, that just doesn’t exist unless something lucky happens, like your study hall is with your AP teacher.”

Hammen and Howell told the school board Monday night they had studied a group of other area schools that had block scheduling and found this schedule style increased how many options the school could offer.

“I would love to see teachers offer things based on interest,” Howell said. “We want to continue to find ways to help kids connect to school.”

Those offerings could focus on students who don’t necessarily need intervention, but instead want to pursue an interest outside of the normal academic subjects.

The group still has to determine what program it would use to schedule these sessions and the interest-based courses, but “it needs to be an online platform,” Howell said.

An additional component of the plan would be assigning students a teacher as an adviser to provide a one-on-one relationship with someone at the school. Students would meet with those advisers for the first two weeks of school, and those advisers would then help determine whether a student needed intervention during the A+ period or could have more freedom.

As teachers would each only be assigned a few students a year, it would also generate relationships among students in different grades who have the same adviser, Hammen said.

“We really like the idea of having representatives from every level, because those seniors are mentors for the freshman,” she said. “… You’re really able to keep a small family group for all four years.”

Board members were generally positive about the idea, though no vote was taken on the proposal. The scheduling subcommittee at the high school will continue to work out the details throughout the upcoming school year, with no set date for further action.

“It sure seems to be a nice development,” board president Dennis Beres said. “This seems to fit pretty well with what we’ve been doing but gives you that flexibility.”

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