To Each School, Its Own Schedule

In August, Hillsborough County, Fla., the 11th-largest school district in the nation, opened its 23rd high school: Newsome High School That was the easy part.

The hard part began a year earlier when district officials began telling parents and students that some of them would have to leave their existing schools to open Newsome High School. In the heated debate that inevitably ensued, parents raised the issue of scheduling. The new school would relieve crowding at Durant and Bloomingdale high schools, which practiced block scheduling and traditional scheduling, respectively. Moreover, Newsome’s first principal was coming from Brandon High, which also was on the block.

Parents fighting to remain at their respective schools fought over what they perceived to be the best form of scheduling. The principals involved moved to calm the storm, recognizing that for some critics, the schedule itself was a smokescreen for a deeper despair at changing schools.

The resulting furor validated the district’s stance to allow each school to determine its class schedule.

Competing Principals
Joe Perez, the principal of Durant High School, says he favors block scheduling because it allows students to earn eight credits a year and “creates a climate in which the kids feel a lot less stress,” worrying about four classes a day rather than seven. The master schedule is designed for course congruency, such as in allowing French 2 to immediately follow
French 1.

But Bloomingdale’s principal, B.J. Stelter, prefers tradition.

“We feel the seven-period day is the cat’s meow,” says Stelter, whose school offers six 48-minute periods and a 20-minute period for reading in which students must read something (other than homework) of their choosing.

“At Bloomingdale, I had very few teachers who were in favor of switching to the block,” Stelter says. “They felt there wasn’t enough research done to make this drastic a change. There were those who were for block scheduling because they felt it afforded students more individualized attention from teachers, who had 80 students a day rather than 160.

“Quite a number of the parents, though, were concerned about the sequencing of courses and the ability to absorb information coming so hard and fast in the areas of mathematics and science. In a traditional school, for example, you prepare for the science lab one day, you have the lab the next day and a follow-up briefing on the third day. In a block school, you can do all three at one time. Some people believe it is very critical to have the flow. Others believe there needs to be time for the absorption of information.”

Preferred Options
How you view the block depends on the filter through which you assess the reform.

For her part, Stelter says it is imperative for each school to review with its community the research on block scheduling and then collectively arrive at a scheduling decision that will work for that community. Even then, she says, nothing should be set in stone, even at Bloomingdale, where the minority population has doubled during her 10-year tenure as principal.

Under consideration is a modified block schedule, in which every class meets Monday, Thursday and Friday, with only three classes meeting on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Such a schedule will allow for longer lab sessions, she says.

At Newsome, Principal Rebecca Anderson says it was her preferred option to institute the block, based on her experiences with it at her former school.

One thing is certain, she says. “The teachers have to be dynamite teachers to fully utilize the 90 minutes. Nobody can do one activity for 90 minutes. You really have to plan thoroughly how you’re going to use that 90-minute block of time.”