Block schedule draws praise, criticism

March 5, 2015 — by Caitlin Ju and Gitika Nalwa

With a rolling block schedule confirmed to start in the fall of 2016, teachers and students are expressing a range of reactions to the change.

With a rolling block schedule confirmed to start in the fall of 2016, teachers and students are expressing a range of reactions to the change.

The decision to go to a full block schedule was made by the school’s leadership team, which comprises the administration and department chairs and was based on input the team had gathered over time, according to principal Paul Robinson.

Although details of the schedule such as teacher collaboration periods and the exact number and time of tutorials are yet to be confirmed, as of now, Robinson thinks the school will have four tutorials a week and maintain its Wednesday collaboration in the morning.

“Our staff collaborates together so well that I don’t see us giving up collaboration,” Robinson said. “Exactly where it’s going to be and how it’s going to end up? There may be some flexibility in that.”

Underclassmen are already thinking about the change, which will involve four 90-minute periods each day.

Sophomore Jason Kao said a schedule with eight periods is good for students.

“Students can have a late start to get more sleep or even leave two periods early,” Kao said. “It’s great not to have all seven classes on Monday.”

Sophomore Joyce Lai said changes to tutorials in the proposed full block schedule might be helpful.

“Wednesday tutorials right now are not as beneficial because everyone would rather go home than spend another 30 extra minutes doing math, but by having tutorials integrated in the schedule, people will be more likely to use them,” Lai said.

However, Lai recognizes the inconvenience the new schedule may present. On holidays, for example, rather than missing a short lesson on Mondays, students would miss a much longer lesson because of the block schedule. In addition, in the current proposed schedule lunches are 5 minutes shorter, perhaps making it more difficult for students who go off campus to make it back to class on time.

Junior Felicia Hung said she is relieved that the change will occur after she graduates.

“I honestly don’t like [the change] very much,” Hung said. “I think the Monday schedule of having all classes is a great way to get back on track, and the all block schedule is just hard to handle.”

Responses have varied among teachers, too, with some liking the decisive change but others feeling uneasy about the process. Many, like history teacher Matt Torrens, said that while their voices were heard by the leadership team, their opinions ultimately did not make as much of a difference as some teachers would have liked. Nevertheless, Torrens, who also has two of his own children at the school, welcomes the change.

“The idea of evening out the homework load every night is a good idea,” Torrens said. “I like the idea of going to a block schedule. There is a potential for lowering stress.”

Still, he believes that other changes would be just as or even more effective at reducing stress. For instance, he suggests that the school reduce the number of AP courses offered to students, thereby preventing students from taking ultra-demanding courses they have neither the time nor energy for.

Others, like government and economics teacher Todd Dwyer, oppose the change, especially the way it came about. Dwyer said the rolling block schedule was not the department chairs’ decision, but rather Robinson’s decision, and that the decision-making process was far from thorough.

According to Dwyer, the current bell schedule resulted from a 2003 WASC recommendation to consider moving to a block schedule. In 2004/2005, an alternative bell schedule committee was convened involving all stakeholders, teachers, parents and students. The committee examined 12 different bell schedules from different schools and districts in Santa Clara County, Dwyer said. The decision came about after “thousands of hours of painstaking research, school site visitations and teacher collaborations and workshops.”

He said that the current schedule has 237 instructional minutes per week, only three minutes fewer than the traditional schedule, which had all seven periods every day.  The rolling block schedule would result in the loss of more than 14 hours of instructional time in the classroom over the year – more than 3.5 weeks of lost instructional time. Dwyer predicts that not only will this change take away from lesson time, but it will also translate to increased homework loads in “content-heavy classes.”

Dwyer believes that the teachers should have final say for any changes to the bell schedule — “not administrators, not guidance, not custodial or cafeteria staff, but the professional educators whose job it is to teach the material under that bell schedule.”

Despite the criticism of the process and schedule itself, the school will spend the next year preparing for the schedule change, modifying the way certain items are delivered in the curriculum.

Robinson feels that decision was one “that just had to be made.” With so many changes in the last few years because of the Common Core state standards, improved collaboration and professional development, Robinson said that the school plans to take its time working out the details of the new schedule.

“It’s a move that we [needed] to make because it’s good for kids,” Robinson said. “I’m very, very happy and extremely supportive of it.”