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Drop block schedule at high schools? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Drop block schedule at high schools?
Study: Traditional class schedule would save school district money

by Lyle R. Rolfe


The Oswego School District could save money by returning to a traditional class schedule format at Oswego High and Oswego East High schools, school district board members were told this week.

In a controversial decision made a decade ago, the school district implemented the block system for scheduling classes at Oswego High School.

The block schedule was also implemented at Oswego East High School when the school opened in 2004.

Dr. Carla Johnson, director of secondary teaching and learning for the district, told board members Monday evening that a High School Block Scheduling Task Force was created during the fall of the 2009-10 school year to examine the current modified "four by four" block schedule at the two high schools, along with other alternative schedules.

Dr. Nancy Chibe, assistant principal at OHS, and Brent Anderson, assistant principal at OEHS, presented the results of the study to the board.

Chibe and Johnson submitted a list of pros and cons for the district's scheduling options. Those included the present modified 4-block schedule, an 8-block schedule, a modified block schedule with "skinnies" (shorter classes that meet each day) and the traditional seven-period class schedule.

Johnson said the district could save money by returning to the traditional schedule. They originally thought they could save the salaries of up to 20 teachers, but then realized that growth in high school enrollments would mean saving only 16 teachers.

After hearing the task force report, board member Steve Wolf said some students have had problems with math and science because of the block schedules and said "if this is an issue, we need to make a change."

He said the issue should be scheduled for discussion during a future board workshop meeting.

"We have to at least look at it, folks. We have to have a better understanding of it. We need to go over the pros and cons in a workshop," Wolf said.

"If we have an opportunity now to save the district some money and put that money back into the curriculum and the resources that we need, then we can balance it out that way with a different system," he added.

Wolf said this opinion is a reverse for him. At the start he liked the block schedule and said his daughter did very well with it. But, he added, his son may not have had as good an experience.

Board members agreed to put the issue on the agenda for the June 14 board workshop. It will be held at 7 p.m. in the second floor community room of Oswego East, 1525 Harvey Road, Oswego.

Earlier during the meeting, board member Mike Scaramuzzi questioned whether the board needs a workshop because they have a recommendation from the task force that said here are no negative or positive ramifications of staying on the block or traditional class schedules.

Scaramuzzi asked about the cost of staffing the block schedule compared to the traditional seven-period schedule they had before changing to block.

Johnson said she talked to the two high schools principals, Mike Wayne at OHS and Dr. Jeff Craig at OEHS. She said they originally thought they would save 16 to 20 teachers with the traditional schedule, but when they considered enrollment growth at the high schools, they lowered the teacher savings to 12 to 16.

This translates to a savings of $650,000 to $900,000, she said.

However, they would have more textbook expenses because the books for courses would be used all year long by more students with a traditional schedule, rather than being used by a different group for each semester.

Wolf said he said he wanted to know about the logistics of changing the schedule.

"How do the schools have to be redone? How does the curriculum have to be changed? It's more than just saving money. It's how does it get done," he said.

Dr. Marsha Golden, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said they took an entire year to change when they went from the traditional to the block schedule.

Board President Lynn Cullick noted that each fall the big issue that comes before the board about the block schedule is elective classes.

"I have a whole other issue with this because I believe we are charged with giving students the full and general studies, not giving them every possible elective they can find time for in their schedule," she said.

Johnson said they originally went to the block schedule because with the traditional schedule students often were not able to get into the electives they wanted, including core electives such as math and science.

She said the block schedule was implemented to provide students with more opportunities and a chance to explore their career opportunities in electives in high school.

'No promises made
about achievements'

In her summary of the task force report, Johnson said there was no evidence of any specific schedule being directly linked to increased test scores and noted that this was the reason the block schedule was originally started.

"There was not a promise made about achievements. Somewhere along the way it was turned into that. It (the block schedule), was adopted to allow students to take more courses and it has done that," she added.

She said students can take electives with the traditional schedule, but the number is reduced.

Board member David Behrens said going to eight classes each day rather than the seven they had with the traditional schedule would allow more classes.

Johnson said that one problem was how many minutes were needed for each class.

Cullick asked if they are losing instructional minutes each day with the block schedule as some people have said.

Johnson said some studies show they have more instructional time and others show less. Some studies show more student achievement and others show less. She said the main factor for achievement is the teacher in the classroom.

She questioned whether the board wanted to go through the same issues they had done several times in the past.

Cullick said it was brought up this time because of the possible cost savings.

Johnson said many districts had reverted back to a traditional schedule, because of the cost savings, not because the block schedule was bad.

Wolf said students have the opportunity to attend Waubonsee Community College or the College of DuPage in their senior year to pick up elective courses they could not take in high school and get regular credit for them.

Board member Andrea Schweda said she thinks the subject comes up every year because people are in favor of the block schedule until their students enter high school and are affected by it. This is when they discover it does not always work and complain, she said.

Superintendent Dr. Dan O'Donnell noted that there is no research that says one schedule is better than all the others and said even the traditional schedule has time constraints,

Wolf said he would like to hear more from the high school principals on their thoughts of the two programs. He said he would be opposed to hearing from parents because their opinions would be based on their own children's experiences, the same as his are.

"I think we need a workshop," Wolf said.

Board Member Mike Scaramuzzi asked what it would take to make a change.

Johnson said they would need an entire school year plus this summer to work on it to make a change for the 2011-12 school year.

Wolf said they also would want to know what effect this would have on teacher contracts.

Task force studied
11 area high schools

The task force goal was to determine how to best meet the needs of students to increase student achievement and determine whether there is a schedule that will better meet students' needs.

The team held seven meetings between November and March and researched 11 high schools.

They included Batavia, Highland Park, Kaneland, Lake Geneva Wisconsin's Badger, Minooka Community, Naperville Central, Plainfield Central Campus, Plano, St. Charles North, Waubonsie Valley, and Yorkville.

Team members were Lynn Brown, Tracey Contino, Adele Dalesandro, Kurt Gulbro, Pam Henricks, Karla Hoinkes, Dr. Carla Johnson, Kay Knutson, Mark Krebs, Tammy Lilly, Patti Marcinko, Lisa Michaels, Missy Niedert, Julie Pavlini, Pam Phelps, Jim Seput, Stephanie Silosky, Guy Tiberio.

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