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Survey: LOHS teachers worried by modified block

But administrators claim new plan for class scheduling is 'best of both worlds'

July 14, 2010 - A big change at the high school, over three years in the making, is about to debut.

Back in 2007, a committee examining the possibility of penny-pinching scheduling plans came up with a modified block concept. In 2010, the plan is set for implementation come September.

Is Lake Orion High School ready for the change, now, less than two months away? Administrators say, yes, but some high school teachers have a different opinion.

Until this coming school year, the high school's had a traditional block schedule with each student attending four, 90-minute class periods. With the modified block schedule, students will have a mix of 90-minute and 45-minute "skinny" classes.

Under the modified block schedule, approximately 11 teachers will be sliced from the payroll, saving the district about $550,000, according to Heidi Kast, assistant superintendent of educational services. The remaining teachers will make up for staffing cuts by teaching an additional 45 minutes per day, and prepping for classes 45 minutes less (half of the usual 90).

Long story, short: fewer teachers will teach the same number of students, and fewer teachers equals cost savings.

But what repercussions, aside from cost savings, will the schedule change have?

In a recent survey of high school staff on modified block, one language arts teacher predicts a serious drop in student achievement and in school climate, posing the question, "Yes we will save money. But at what cost?"

"Teachers will experience a crushing drop in morale as they simultaneously absorb at 33 percent increase in student-load and a 50 percent decrease in preparation time," said the same teacher. "To naively believe that the seismic changes initiated by the modified block will result in "no student impact" represents an egregious lack of pedagogical foresight."

Questions about the bell schedule came up again and again in the survey. Teachers also voiced concerns about properly addressing Individual Education Programs (IEPs), communication with parents, planning lessons, attendance and grading homework.

"Students will ultimately be suffering in their education because it won't be possible to give them what they deserve," said one teacher.

Several other teachers had concerns about students taking classes they need, not simply what fits as a skinny or block in their schedule.

Only a pair of teachers responded positively in the survey.

One said, "I hope that due to all the careful planning, it will be a smooth transition, but we may not learn of problems until we actually begin the process."

How did district administrators react to the survey responses?

"In reviewing the survey, nothing took me by surprise," said Kast. "Those are things we've been hearing it's going to come with any change."

She said she was a little taken off guard by a few things like exam and bell schedules, though, because those concerns had already been addressed.

Though nothing's been finalized on the bell schedule, it'll be all set by the time school starts.

And Kast says, in the whole scheme of things, those are small issues.

"The details of it are things that are still being finalized this summer. The biggest thing was the curriculum and all of those pieces are done, thanks to the staff," she said.

And students taking classes that simply fit versus classes they need? That shouldn't happen.

"The challenge of getting classes a student needs versus a class that simply fits into his/her schedule is something counselors deal with every year," she said. "With scheduling students, we've done nothing differently. There would be some years where students get most of their choices and other years where they're not. That's just part of scheduling."

Kast says there's no doubt that teacher planning time is going to be lessened it's simple math. Teachers are going from 90 minutes a day to 45.

"However, look at elementary and middle school teachers. Elementary has 225 (planning minutes) a week. Middle school has 45 minutes for teaming and 45 minutes for conference. The days of having time built in the day are over. We're one of the very few in Oakland County that even has anything like that."

Long planning periods is a luxury that the district can't afford anymore, she said.

But Kast says modified block will be better for students in the long run, anyway.

"Now, every student gets 90 minutes, whether you can (teach and learn) 90 minutes or not doesn't matter. Here, we have a mix of both, which I think better meets kids' needs. It's the best of both worlds."

She added, modified block offers more flexibility than just a straight block schedule, or six or seven equal-period day.

She said six or seven periods would have been easier to go to. But, when reviewed before, the study group found that would cost the district more, not less, and it wouldn't allow for as many different classes in a year.

"We're going out on an edge. I don't know if there have been many districts who have done this before. But, when you look at meeting students' needs, anytime you can have different opportunities for kids, you'll be able to do it better. One size does not fit all," she said.

"Now the true test will be when we go through it for a year and really live it. But, I think it's the whole notion of change some welcome change and others have a problem with change."

Reporter, Lake Orion Review
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