TCSS discusses moving high schools to block system

Published 10:00 am Thursday, February 18, 2021

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It appears that Troup County School System high schools will move to block scheduling next year, pending approval of a policy change from the school board.

The board heard a presentation in favor of a move to block scheduling from the three TCSS high school principals — Callaway High’s Jonathan Laney, Troup High’s Niki Watts and LaGrange’s Alton White — during Tuesday night’s work session. The high schools currently have seven periods that run all school year, meaning 50-minute classes. With the change to block scheduling, students would take four classes at a time, with each class being 90 minutes apiece.

“A seven period day is a very fast-paced day. By the time you start something, you are changing something,” Laney said. “You have seven transitions in the hallway each day.”

The change to block scheduling would mean more class time, only four classes at a time and students would take eight classes instead of seven each year. 

It creates better social distancing, as students change classes less times each day, and it creates one additional lunch period. 

“In a 90-minute block schedule, by the schedule itself, it’s a more relaxed day,” Laney said. “There are four transitions, there is more time in each class, and you get four lunches in that block, which reduces the number of kids in the lunchroom.”

Students that fail a class or are behind in a subject, like math, can catch up easier in a block schedule. For instance, instead of a student having to take a remedial math class and a regular math class at the same time, the remedial class could be in the fall and the next math class could be in the spring.

Laney said the conversation about block scheduling first started when they reviewed the first semester, where a lot of virtual students failed classes. 

“We were talking about virtual school and what we can do to make it better. One thing that can make virtual school better is not having kids focus on seven virtual classes at once,” Laney said, noting that the conversation evolved then to include all students. “As we began to talk about it, we said that is creating a more productive model to improve academic achievement.”

Laney detailed possible issues with a block schedule as well. For instance, teachers have to adjust their teaching style for more time in the classroom, but he was confident that could be overcome through professional learning. 

“It takes a different mindset to teach on a 90-minute block than it does 50,” Laney said. “If you’re in the mindset of teaching 50 minutes and you change to a 90-minute block, there is the possibility that teachers that are not prepared for that will waste instructional time.”

Laney said teachers were overwhelmingly supportive of the block schedule, but some of his math teachers were worried that students could go an entire year between math classes. That could happen if a student took math in the fall of one school year but waited until the spring of the next year to take math.

Laney said registrars could ensure that students take math in the same semester each year to avoid that problem. 

Other issues are AP exams, which take place in the spring, regardless of when the class is taken. Electives, such as band, would be the whole year, and would result in a quarter of a student’s time at school.  

“Our kids take a final in every course at the end of the year,” White said. “They are preparing for seven finals over three days. We don’t ask college kids to take seven finals in three days. This way they would have, at most, four.”

Watts pointed out that students involved in extracurricular activities would also miss less classes under a block schedule if they had to leave early for a game. 

The board is not required to vote on the change to a block schedule, but the schedule change does impact a school system policy that currently states that students will take seven classes a day. Therefore, the board will have to approve the policy change to allow for the change to block scheduling. 

The wording in the policy will be changed to say that schools will schedule students for a “full academic day.” 

“Board members, I’d just like to offer my endorsement for making this change,” said Board Chairwoman Cathy Hunt, a longtime educator. “I taught both ways, six period day and on block schedule. … You have to change your mindset. You can’t lecture for 90 minutes, but you can get two days of instruction done in 90 minutes. I think seven is too much for students, I think it’s too many for teachers. I think the quality of my teaching was better and students had more opportunity on the block schedule.”

The board is expected to vote on the policy change on Thursday. 

According to a schedule presented, the block schedule would start in the fall of 2021.