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Officials discuss block vs. traditional scheduling for high schools

By Sarah Campbell
scampbell@salisburypost.com
EAST SPENCER — The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education discussed the pros and cons of block scheduling during a work session earlier this week.
Chairman Dr. Jim Emerson said he had the topic added to the agenda after receiving negative feedback from parents, students and teachers.
All of the district’s high schools are on block schedules with students taking four 90-minute classes each semester. Students took the same six or seven classes for 45 to 55 minutes all year on the traditional schedule.
Kathy McDuffie, the district’s director of secondary education, said the state Department of Public Instruction doesn’t keep an exact count of schools that operate on traditional vs. block schedules.
“The best the state could tell us is about 85 percent of high schools are following a block schedule or some hybrid block schedule that includes running some yearlong classes,” she said.
McDuffie said high schools in the Wake County Public School System and most of the ones in Guilford County use block schedules.
Emerson said one of the concerns he’s heard is that some students take math in the fall of one school year and don’t take another math class until the spring of the following year.
“That’s a long gap in between,” he said.
McDuffie said that’s true, but many of the students only have to take four math courses their entire high school career.
“There may be gaps,” she said, “but there is also the opportunity for remediation and support.”
Emerson said one of his concerns is that teachers might not be utilizing the entire 90-minute period.
“We recommend chunks of lessons. We tell our teachers 90 solid minutes of anything is bad,” McDuffie said. “You can’t do it, and I can’t do it, and really be effective.
“The best instructional practice is a little bit of information followed by time to use it.”
School board Vice-Chairwoman Jean Kennedy said as a former educator, the switch to block scheduling made her a better teacher.
“I had to stop and look at how I was delivering information and figure out how to be more effective,” she said.
The system pushed Kennedy to step outside her comfort zone and alter her teaching strategies.
“Personally, I think it’s a good setup,” she said.
• • •
Norma Drake said she wasn’t thrilled with block scheduling when her daughter, Amanda, started high school. She thought the “normal schedule” was the best way to learn.
“It did not take too long for me to change my mind,” she said. “I like the block schedule and so did Amanda. She graduated from West Rowan High School in 2008 and is now a senior at Catawba College.”
Drake said her son, Andrew, is a sophomore at West now.
“He likes it and can’t imagine having to take the same class all year,” she said.
Veronica Wells, a 1998 graduate of North Rowan, said she thinks block scheduling is a good way to prepare students for college, allowing them to focus on fewer classes each semester.
“As I think back, the longer classes help me get more out of my education and I was able to learn more without disruption of class ending after 50 or 60 minutes,” she said.
Kennedy said since the district has switched to block scheduling, her daughter has mentioned that she wished it was around when she was in school.
“She took the higher courses, so she had all of those everyday,” she said. “She had no life, she came home and did homework.”
• • •
McDuffie said at this point it would be hard to switch back to a traditional schedule because of graduation requirements that mandate a specific number of courses.
“I see a lot of kids having issues with that because there would be fewer opportunities to retake classes,” she said.
School board member Bryce Beard said scheduling should stay as it is.
“When we switched from the traditional schedule to the block, people didn’t like it because people don’t like change, but once they find change you don’t see them going back,” he said.
McDuffie said the block schedule can be streamlined by focusing more on individual student needs.
The board did not take any action on the subject.
“I felt compelled to plant this seed of discontent,” Emerson said. “We didn’t resolve anything, but at least we discussed it.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
Twitter: twitter.com/posteducation
Facebook: facebook.com/ Sarah.SalisburyPost

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