Concerns over new KM schedule
With registration for next year's classes just around the corner in January, there are still a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the proposed block schedule at Kettle Moraine High School.
Proponents maintain block scheduling means deeper, more individualized learning that allows more time to develop student-teacher relationships, additional educational opportunities for students and an advisory time. But opponents point to a lack of data supporting the success of the system and instructional gaps that could hinder students as well as the effect of missing school for illness orextracurricular activities and the lack of a study hall period.
However, Superintendent Pat Deklotz explained that although the 4x4 block schedule is "not a done deal" the next logical step would be to take a look at student interest through course registration and give that information to staff departments to piece together a block schedule and see what it looks like.
Until then, the School Board will continue to discuss the option, trying to find answers to questions from parents, students and board members themselves.
Block scheduling has been around for more than two decades, Deklotz explained at the Dec. 18 School Board meeting. KMHS has been actively looking at the option for more than a year as a way to give teachers and students more time together, which is a logical progression to allow deeper relationships to foster learning, Deklotz added.
KMHS Principal Jeff Walters said they started exploring the option as a result of looking at ways to personalize learning and prepare students for college and careers. While KMHS is doing a good job, Walters said he thinks they can do a better job, increase ACT scores and close gaps to perform better on the state report card.
What is block scheduling?
In a number of informational sessions over the past couple of weeks, Walters explained the proposed 4x4 block schedule to parents and students.
Classes would run almost twice as long as they do now, about an hour and a half each, but for half the calendar time it does now. An advisement time during the day would allow for reassessment, interventions and enrichment, guidance assistance and assistance from content experts.
Yearlong classes would become semester courses under the block schedule, and semester courses would become nine-week term courses. "Skinnies," or half-block classes, would run all year long.
The KMHS team charged with investigating the block schedule looked at and visited five sample schools with the same type of schedule, including Hamilton and Oconomowoc.
According to Walters, block scheduling provides more academic experience for students because of longer class time. It also provides more opportunities for instruction modifications and allows students to work with content experts
Additionally, there would be less time devoted to startup and shutdown of class periods, while allowing students to concentrate on fewer classes at one time.
KMHS student Maddie Gruenke toured some of the schools that currently provide block scheduling, which made her more comfortable about the proposed change. She described the school environment as not as rushed. With fewer classes to worry about for each term, students didn't have to worry about being prepared for seven courses. The longer class times also allowed teachers time to walk around and help students understand the material.
School Board student representative Grace Leonhardt said students and teachers at Sussex Hamilton had concerns when the school made the change to block scheduling, but students now love it and most teachers do as well. Leonhardt explained that teachers changed the way they taught to incorporate more group work and more interaction, which reduced boredom. The longer periods allowed for more-thorough instruction so students better understood the material, which helped them retain the knowledge.
Tracy Henze, a parent who also visited the schools, had initial concerns. Henze and her family moved from districts that had block scheduling and had one child who graduated from such a program, took AP courses and did well on the AP exam. She agreed with the advantages of block scheduling and after exploring the option came away satisfied that block scheduling would work well at KMHS.
However, some parents still have many questions and told the School Board "due diligence" hasn't been done in researching block scheduling. Some parents cited concerns with children involved in sports or activities that took them out of school during the day, thus missing large chunks of instructional time through the block schedule. Not having a study hall in the schedule would also cause problems for those involved in extracurricular activities.
A big concern came up with AP exams if an AP course did not run the entire year. How would students be able to retain the knowledge needed to take the exam if the course was taught during a term earlier in the year?
Andrew Green said he was dismayed at the tiny amount of date available on block scheduling. With a lot of pressure on schools to deliver a high-quality education, Green asked School Board members to "very carefully consider if this is a place where you want to put your effort when there are so many challenges out there."
Brian Johnston also commented on the small amount of data available regarding block scheduling. Johnston said he found that one school showed an increased cost for the school because of block scheduling. He also said some that lost enrollment.
"I think we need to put a lot more thought into it and do a thorough study of the pros and cons," said Johnston.
Jen Healy pointed to research her daughter did that showed schools could lose 20 hours of teaching time through block scheduling.
"That's curriculum we're not going to get," said Healy.
Healy was frustrated with administration responses to questions about block scheduling, stating the responses she has gotten changed over time.
"We're not ready to move forward with this," Healy said.
KMHS teacher Steve Plum, who coordinates AP courses, didn't think block scheduling would affect performance in AP courses, explaining that there are several reason for taking an AP course, and taking the exam for college credit is only one. Plum did point to the need to prepare teachers as much as possible for the schedule change.
School Board members had many of the same questions and concerns that parents brought forward. Board member Colin Bulter pushed Walters to provide more data to back up the benefits of changing to block scheduling.+
Board member Terri Phillips wanted to know how the changed schedule would affect learning for the 21st century.
"It is not about how many periods during the day, but what we are doing during those periods?" Phillips pointed out. "Will it increase ACT scores? I don't know but it has to be about value, about advancing kids and making them successful."
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