A new schedule for Summit High School? | SummitDaily.com

A new schedule for Summit High School?

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

As Summit High School focuses in on choosing one of two altered schedules that could be implemented next school year, students, parents, teachers and community members have expressed mixed feelings regarding how the new schedules would affect students.

The main goal in changing the schedule is to enhance student achievement by maximizing time between students and teachers, providing additional time for extra help or accelerated work, encourage enrollment in core classes and encourage students to have a “more challenging senior year,” Summit High School assistant principal Gretchen Nies said previously. Currently, the graduation requirements and the eight-period block schedule interact such that students have 64 opportunities to earn 50 credits, leaving many class periods that don’t need to be filled.

But the challenge is to juggle those goals with maintaining the successes of elite athletes, fine arts programs and the needs of special education at the same time impacts of travel on academic progress are minimized.

School administrators are considering two options, both modified block schedules. Both include four days with fewer 90-minute classes, with one day where all the classes meet, but for a shorter time.

The seven-period modified block schedule includes an optional eighth period as well as a “zero” period early in the morning, though transportation could be an issue for some students. This schedule would provide 56 chances to earn 50 credits to graduate.

In the eight-period modified block schedule, the number of opportunities to earn credits doesn’t change, so to achieve a “challenging senior year,” the graduation requirements would have to change, Nies said.

Feedback from across the board

Elite athletes criticize both options, citing reasons that adjusted requirements mean reduced free time that would directly interfere with practice times. Leaving early would be less of an option.

On the other hand, honors student Alexis Bukaty sees benefits in the seven-period schedule’s ability to challenge seniors more.

“It prevents culture shock in college,” by encouraging a continued work ethic throughout the year, she said.

At the same time, she sees ways the seven-period schedule can cater to athletes. It rotates class meeting times so they may not miss a full week of classes through early dismissals as they often currently do.

Nies pointed out that the seven-period schedule poses staffing challenges on the administrative side, and both schedules could mean increased class sizes as opportunities to meet core requirements are condensed.

Parents in attendance at last week’s evening discussion on the topic at the high school had mixed feelings, some wondering where sports fit in and others liking the finer focus on academics.

Marla Dyer, a parent of two high school students, supported the eight-period schedule because she worried the schedules would cut back too much on a student’s ability to take electives.

Reduced choices

Teachers in the fine arts echo Dyer’s statements, saying that either way, the revised schedules affect a student’s ability to partake in electives. But, they say the eight-period revised schedule could provide more options than the seven-period version.

“All of us in the elective program – maybe not all of us – but in music especially because it’s a skills-based program, (believe that) to not have (students) in classes would hurt their development as musicians in a big way – and impact the programs themselves,” vocal music teacher Cathie Hill said.

“For me, it’s about choices for students,” she added, not necessarily about the effects on the program, which could also be drastic.

She explained that increasing requirements for students leaves them few options, as the Middle Years Program of the International Baccalaureate academic requirements are being mandated next year and in conjunction, foreign language requirements are increasing to two years from one semester. Some modifications allow for choice within these requirements. But, Hill said that when the seven-period schedule is put alongside the changing requirements, freshmen would have one semester of one class to fill with an elective and sophomores would be able to self-select two semesters of one class, she said.

Nies said students would still have elective opportunities, but since they’ll likely be fewer, students will have to focus more on one area of interest, such as honing in on the vocal arts.

“It could play into the career pathways – What are our students’ post-secondary plans?” she said, adding that the undecided could still take a smattering of electives.

Fewer options also means more scheduling conflicts, said Linda Shea, instrumental music teacher. She spoke of one talented student in jazz and symphonic band who likely won’t be able to participate next year because of anticipated scheduling conflicts in the seven-period schedule.

“The eight-period schedule will always have conflicts, but not nearly as widespread,” Hill said.

The teachers see pros intertwined with cons if the schedules aren’t implemented correctly. For instance, increasing students’ access to teachers is useless if students aren’t motivated to take advantage. It’s a concern also shared by parents attending last week’s discussion.

Getting the pulse of the community

Board member Margaret Carlson heard similar comments as she listened to her table’s discussion last week. The resounding question was, even if the changes are a good idea, how will they look on the ground?

“I think that is the biggest challenge – making sure change is implemented with integrity and consistency,” Carlson said.

Carlson found last week’s discussion helpful as a board member trying to support the needs of the district as it works toward improvement.

“The input is valuable as we move forward,” she said. “The board and administration need to hear what people’s concerns are, and be able to address those.”

The conversation goes both ways, too, she added. Interested community members are learning that the key idea in making change is improvement, not change for the sake of change.

“These reforms address real problems that have been identified, and we are constantly striving to do better for all of our students,” she said.

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