Jefferson City Public Schools is considering whether to change its secondary schools' schedules to be more traditional, and some students have wondered if such a change would negatively affect their ability to take the advanced courses they want to prepare for college.
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"That particular decision will not be made this evening. It's our expectation that when (Superintendent) Dr. (Larry) Linthacum and his administrative team brings recommendations for curriculum for next year in early spring, typically around March or April, at that point, that discussion will be taken up and a request for action will be made," JCPS Board of Education President Steve Bruce said at December's board meeting.
Even so, a couple Jefferson City High School students and a parent of another spoke during the meeting's open forum about what they see as the benefits of the current schedule — referred to as a four-block day — and were wary of a potential change to a seven-period schedule.
The school day for students at JCHS currently begins at 7:50 a.m. Students' first class goes from 7:50-9:11 a.m., followed by another from 9:19-10:40 a.m.; FAST period between 10:48-11:30 a.m.; a fourth period from 11:38 a.m.-1:26 p.m.; and a final class period at 1:34-2:55 p.m.
FAST stands for "Focused Academic Success Time," and exists for students to use the time for study hall or have a chance to get additional help from teachers.
Lunch at JCHS is broken into five shifts, the first from 11:30-11:54 a.m. and the last 24-minute time to eat from 1:02-1:26 p.m.
A seven-period schedule would have classes last 50-52 minutes a day, lasting 174 days, JCPS' Director of Secondary Education Gary Verslues later described — as opposed to the current schedule that fits more class time into each semester, 87 days.
Joseph DeFeo, a junior, said he and many of his classmates agree Advanced Placement courses fit well into the current schedule, adding he was taking AP courses in biology, calculus and U.S. history, and would be starting an AP statistics course.
DeFeo said he plans on taking two more AP calculus courses next school year — "which is what will allow me to keep my dual credit and AP test score. But, with the seven-block schedule and wanting to take classes throughout the entire year," he wouldn't be able to take the calculus courses he needs.
He's also an engineering student through the Project Lead the Way program — he's studying to be a biomedical engineer — and said a change in the block scheduling would also interfere with his course track for engineering.
David Ganey — a science teacher and assistant wrestling coach at JCHS, as well as local representative of the Missouri National Education Association — spoke to the board as a parent. Ganey said his daughter was also concerned about the number of classes she'd be able to take in a seven-period schedule.
"She has a passion for math, science and foreign language, and her concern is her limitation in taking some foreign language classes if we go to the seven-period day," he said.
Ganey said his daughter also pointed out to him that if she takes the ACT as a junior, under a seven-period schedule, she won't have had some of the classes that she might need to be better prepared.
Will Roehl, another junior, said he recently transferred to JCHS from Helias Catholic High School, and "Part of the reason why I did that was because of the four-block schedule, because I saw a lot of potential for it with being able to take more classes that interested me, and I felt would prepare me for college."
With regards to what Ganey said about his daughter's interest in math, science and foreign language, Roehl said, "It would make it a lot harder to balance all of those out and still go as far as you want to."
Roehl said a four-block schedule "limits the classes you have at a time, so it also limits the homework, so you can put more effort into it, because you do not have a wider range of classes to do homework for in the next day."
JCPS Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf said students' concerns are valid. Shindorf later added, "We have no interest whatsoever in harming the track that our students are on. We're aware of the issues that arise when you switch from one (schedule) to the other, and our goal is that we come up with a plan that we can accommodate the students. But what we don't want to do is feel that we are restricted or confined to forever more staying with this model."
He said discussions about the opening of Capital City High School and preparing curriculum and programs led to a restarted conversation about the sixth- through 12th-grade schedules, adding "there seemed to be, at least from the nine to 12 program, overwhelming interest in having conversations about more of a seven-block schedule."
Shindorf shared with the board that there are several concerns administrators and teachers feel moving from a four- to seven-period schedule would help alleviate.
Class pacing that's too fast — "We have extended class time during the day, but we do that within a short duration," a semester, he said. He added with a seven-block schedule, "there's an addition of about six weeks' instruction."
Shindorf said a less-condensed schedule would also make it easier for students who are absent to catch up. "Because you're condensing so much content into 80 minutes, (if) you miss just one or two of those, you have a considerable amount of work to make up if you're sick. If you're sick more than two or three days, it's pretty hard to overcome. That is at least alleviated a little by moving to a seven-block (schedule)."
Shindorf said there are concerns about gaps in sequential courses, such as English or Spanish, under the current schedule, in that some students wait a year before taking the next level of a course.
He also said, "We have an issue with students staying engaged for long blocks of time" on the secondary level.
He added 90 percent of transfer students come from schools with a traditional schedule, and it's difficult to integrate those students into the current schedule.
"I can't tell you tonight that we have 100 percent of staff who want to switch. I don't know that that will ever happen," Shindorf said.
He added, however, "the current model is absolutely hampering students' success," and based on feedback from all the secondary principals and from teachers to Verslues at staff meetings he attended, "it is fair to say that the majority of your staff are interested into moving to a traditional block schedule."
"When about 80 or 85 percent of our kids will benefit from that six weeks' extra instruction, we've got to pay attention to that. That doesn't mean we forget the 15 to 20 percent (of students on an accelerated track). If we do this, we would develop a transition plan. Do we double-block to allow them the same courses?" so students take what they want to take, Verslues said.
He said there's a lot of academic research available on schedules, but "you won't find any research that will say one (schedule) is guaranteed to have better academic achievement that the other. They will simply state the pros and cons."
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"When I hear from building leaders that they're hearing that we don't have enough time to teach what we need to teach and teach it well, and we can gain six weeks of instructional time, that alone deserves our utmost consideration," Verslues said.
He added a move to a seven-period schedule would not affect Nichols Career Center or the process of determining elective offerings. Also, the district would continue to offer the integrated freshmen-level Principles of Leadership class and sophomore Bio-Lit class, as integrated courses and standalone courses — for example, Bio-Lit as one course, or biology and English II separately; "same amount of time in your schedule, same amount of credits."
Verslues also said a majority of middle school staff like the idea of a move to a seven-period schedule, albeit adjusted to meet their buildings' needs.