2 days a week to have long periods
By Devon Nutting
For several years, debate has been ongoing among Skyline’s administration, faculty and students about whether to change the school’s schedule to some form of “block” schedule, with longer periods and fewer classes per day.
Now, with the announcement that the 2018-19 school year would have a hybrid schedule with two days of block each week, the school’s leadership has finally taken the leap.
However, since the administration has said this schedule is “transitional,” it leaves the big question of what schedule will be implemented in later years.
“For the 2018-19 school year, this is a transitional schedule and a positive way for all of us to learn what works well for students while also allowing us to adjust our instructional practices in a block,” wrote the administration team in an letter to the school’s staff on March 13.
“The 7-period hybrid block schedule will also allow us to gather essential data next year on block days vs non-block days that will be used to determine a final schedule for Skyline.”
The major advocate for the move to block has been the district and school administrators, who have argued that that extended periods in each class and fewer transitions between classes will lead to more academic success.
Both representatives of the teachers union and the administration also released at the same time several surveys of teachers and students which showed widespread support for the hybrid schedule over an innovative but controversial alternative plan championed by OUSD officials and known as “four by four” (4×4).
The approved schedule will see two out of the five school days (either Tues./Wed. Or Wed./Thurs.) swapped with an “A/B” block format. On one of these days, students will follow the “A” schedule which may involve for example periods 1, 3, 5, and 7. On the second block day of the week, students will follow the “B” schedule that include periods 2, 4 and 6. On block days, each class will be approximately 90 minutes long.
The other three days of the week will remain unchanged from what they are now. Each course will remain at the current two-semester length, unlike the 4×4.
In a 4×4 schedule, students would have taken a full year’s course in a single semester, four at a time for a total of eight per year. (Some yearlong classes could be fit in a 4×4 if you allow a block to be cut in half.)
In the Oakland Educators Association online survey, teachers were asked to rank the hybrid, the 4×4, and the current, traditional 7-period day. Of the 58 responses, half chose the hybrid, nearly 40 percent wanted to stick with the current schedule, and only one out of eight supported the 4×4. [See graphic, above]
The administration’s own survey, which 62 staff members filled out did not give the current schedule as a choice, but the results were otherwise similar, with only 4 out of 5 choosing the hybrid over the 4×4. A survey of 41 students split almost identically.
At the end of the previous school year, according to Mr. Scheer, Principal Bloom had told teachers at the year’s final staff meeting that the school was definitely going to a block schedule by 2018-19 and that teachers who didn’t want to teach in such a schedule should look for jobs at different schools.
There are numerous methods of organizing a school’s schedule, and the two presented as finalists by the administration offered a contrast. The schedule chosen, in fact, was less dramatic a change than an earlier finalist which would have had four block days each week and two minimum days. However, a cost analysis by AC Transit claimed adapting to extra short day would lead to between $1.3 and 2 million dollars in extra charges, so it was replaced with they hybrid, which would keep all start and end times the same as the current schedule.
Along with the longer periods, lunch and passing periods will likely be longer on block days, although no exact version has been released.
As the dust cleared, students and teachers interviewed generally were breathing a sigh of relief as the potential problems of the 4×4 block were being avoided altogether. When asked to compare the two finalists, several students concluded block was the better way to go — but also dismissed the situation as “not a big deal.”
English teacher Ms. Vu is excited for the new opportunities the change may bring. She is hopeful the change will provide more time in class to experiment with activities such as seminars and community circles in order to provide a more intimate and detailed experience for students.
The teachers union is pursuing a grievance based on claims that the school staff was not adequetely consulted about the change. If the grievance is affirmed, it could roll it back.
As the general consensus of the schedule change are mixed, Assistant Principal Camarena is one of the Titans that takes a more hopeful view of the situation.
“Block schedule can be effective if the students and staff are behind it,” he said.