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County school officials rethink ‘block schedule’

90-minute classes work well for some subjects, not others

POSTED: January 18, 2008 5:04 a.m.
GAINESVILLE — Hall County schools’ teachers and administrators are looking at revising the "block schedule," with changes to come possibly as early as next school year.

The block schedule initially was put in place "to get kids to more courses, or at least the opportunity to take more courses," said Sally Krisel, the district’s assistant director of teaching and learning.

However, "we have discovered over the years that ... there are certain aspects of what we need to do with our high school students that are not well served."

Under block scheduling, students take four 90-minute classes each semester. The parents of many of today’s high schoolers may remember six classes per day that lasted the entire school year. Krisel said the block schedule doesn’t work as well with Advanced Placement courses, which allow students to earn college credit if they nail a certain score on the AP exam in May.

"It’s really, really tough on a student to finish up an 18-week AP class," she said. "Number one, that’s too little time to get the depth of content."

Plus, students who take a first-semester AP class must wait several months before taking the exam.

"The other thing is ... you really do get less (instruction) time. There we have our top-of-the-line course in terms of academic rigor — that college-level course — and you’re trying to squeeze it into fewer hours."

A committee comprising educators in all content areas met for the time in December to look at high school scheduling options.

"The first thing we asked them to do (is) let’s start with the premise of what is the absolute best instructional situation for our kids," Krisel said. "Let’s imagine that somewhere down the road we can wave a magic wand and have the scheduling fairies come in overnight and make all the pieces fit together."

Math teachers favored year-long courses. Under the block, "a kid could go to college and ... would not have had a math course since perhaps the fall of their junior year," Krisel said.

Science teachers, on the other hand, said "don’t make us give up our 90-minute periods," she said. "For a science lab to get set up, with a 55-minute class, we can’t do the type of in-depth science work that we want to do and can do."

So, the block schedule’s effectiveness varies from subject to subject. Also, the International Baccalaureate program being pursued by West Hall, Johnson and North Hall high schools requires year-long courses.

"We can handle that," Krisel said. "We have a small percentage of our high school students in the IB program, and we’re not going to let a schedule that we must have for that program drive the schedule for everybody."

But, given that the state has increased graduation requirements and "our increasing knowledge of what works best with different disciplines, it just seems like a good time to step back and look at it all," she added. "High schools all over the state are doing the same thing."

One school not moving toward block changes is Gainesville High.

The school "will be staying with the flexibility the true block offers," said principal Mike Kemp. "I feel it better prepares students for postsecondary success, as colleges are on a semester system."

Krisel said Hall’s educators heard a Webcast at the December meeting on class schedules that other school systems are considering, from students coming to school in shifts through an eight-period day to Saturday classes during the summer.

"We were sitting there with our eyes getting bigger and bigger as they described (scheduling changes)," she said.

One popular scheduling option is the "A/B schedule" that has students taking shorter classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and the 90-minute classes on Tuesday and Thursday — not unlike a college schedule. Another option is requiring the block schedule only for freshmen so they don’t have as many classes to juggle in their first year of high school.

"I think we will be making some changes because we’re always trying to improve things for our students," Krisel said. "It may be incremental changes; we may do something next year and then the next year work toward something else."



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