8/25/15 ABSS block schedules still up in the air

ABSS block schedules still up in the air
Superintendent wants to give changes ‘serious and thoughtful’ scrutiny
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 8/25/15  
Reprinted with permission.      

   Bill Harrison, Alamance-Burlington School System superintendent, wants to move slowly in considering changes to the way high schools schedule classes.

   “I don’t want this to become a distraction, but it is something that certainly warrants serious and thoughtful consideration,” Harrison said at Monday’s meeting of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education.

   On a “four-by-four block” schedule, students take four 90-minute classes a day for a semester rather than six to eight classes a day for a year. The idea is to cut the amount of time students spend going from class to class, and give teachers time to get into their subjects in depth.

   Critics say students do not retain information as well in such long sessions, there are actually fewer total course hours, and the schedule can put as much as a year between different levels of courses — math I and math II, for example.

   Harrison said he met with some of the teacher-of-the-year finalists Friday, and opinions varied.

   One teacher at the new Alamance-Burlington Early College told Harrison he preferred a traditional schedule in a traditional high school, but a block schedule was necessary for the Early College, where students complete their high school requirements in two years.

   A teacher from the ABSS Career and Technical Education Center also favored the block schedule, while the two teachers from traditional high schools were split and said teachers at their schools also were divided.

   Harrison said he wanted to have some informal conversations and gather information, including a survey of teachers, in the fall term and get input from some students. Formal discussions would come in the spring and summer, and Harrison would bring a recommendation to the school board in fall 2016.

   The teachers he met with also told Harrison any changes needed to come before registration for fall classes.

   “The one thing they asked, in addition to involvement, was that this not be an 11th-hour decision,” Harrison said.

   Board member Steve Van Pelt said it took a long time to adopt a block schedule when he was an assistant principal at Cummings High School, and he thought a slow process was appropriate now.

   Harrison also pointed out the district adopted a modified block schedule, so high school principals already have flexibility in scheduling.

   “They have the authority and the ability to run a hybrid of some sort and do something a little bit different,” Harrison said.