High school schedule to be changed again for next year

May 1, 2009
by Susie Pender and Christine Yeres

On May 5, at next Tuesday’s board of education meeting, the administration will announce that the controversial eight-day cycle introduced at the high school this past year will revert to a six-day cycle next year.

In this year’s eight-day cycle, there were four days of 60 minute classes followed by four days of 80 minute classes. Next year, there will be four days of 60 minute classes followed by only two days of 80 minute classes, according to teachers who were informed of this change during Thursday’s staff development meeting.

There are several reasons for the change, which will likely be elaborated on as part of Tuesday’s presentation. Primary among them was the realization that eighty minutes was just too long a period for students to remain focused. Explained one teacher, “I cannot cover the material of two 40-minute periods in one 80 minute period.  Kids can’t do it.  Adults wouldn’t be able to do it.” 

The eight day cycle also meant that classes met less frequently; some upper level English classes, for instance, only met four out of eight days. In combination, these two elements of the new schedule proved disastrous for teachers’ lesson plans. Many teachers found they had to spend a significant amount of class time reviewing material and refreshing the recollections of their students. 

As a consequence, some course content has had to be jettisoned by teachers; of special concern in Advance Placement courses where the amount of material to be covered is so substantial. Indeed, one teacher commented: “Most of our professional development time is spent talking about what we’re going to cut out.”

Tuesday’s board meeting will begin at 8:15 p.m. in the high school academic commons. The public is always welcome to attend these meetings. There will be a comment period following the presentation during which residents can ask questions of the administrators and the board members.

A brief history of the change

Before this year’s “modified block” schedule, there was the “mod” schedule, basically a six-day cycle during which classes generally met for three 15 minute “mods,” or 45 minutes. The 35-year old “mod” schedule was abandoned last year as outdated, and replaced by a new eight-day cycle, four days of 60 minute classes followed by four days of 80 minute classes. 

The administration, when it proposed this dramatic change, made a special point to reassure parents that students would receive almost exactly the same amount of class time under the new schedule as under the old schedule because of all the time saved not changing classes, especially on the four 80-minute class days. 

For a full review of all the articles written and letters to the editor received by NewCastleNOW.org last year about the schedule change, click here

Reasons for the change

Another important reason for the changes being proposed at next Tuesday’s meeting was to eliminate some of the huge blocks of free time, some as long as four hours, that students have on Days 7 and 8 of the modified block schedule. 

In addition, club participation has suffered under the eight day cycle. Clubs met this year on Day 6 during one of the eighty minute blocks. But, explained one advisor, “with certain clubs and activities, we don’t see the kids enough, since we don’t have homeroom. Once every eight days is not enough; one out of six would be better.” 

It appears at this time that the activity period during which clubs and other student organizations meet will revert to one morning every six days; it was every Wednesday under the old “mod” schedule. So the first period of Day 5, currently staff development time for the departments, will become the students’ activity period. The midday time during Day 6 when clubs met this past year will convert to staff development time. The administration is still working to fit peer and guidance groups into this new arrangement. 

For a full review of all the articles written and letters to the editor received by NewCastleNOW.org last year about the schedule change, click here

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