School leaders mixed on block schedule

Students like new format, teachers not as enthused

Highlands Ranch High School teacher Angela Mills helps freshman Ivanna Akhverdian Sept. 25 in the math computer lab. Photo by Courtney Kuhlen | ckuhlen@ourcoloradonews.com
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A Douglas County High School official says the block schedule adopted by many high schools in 2012-13 undermines the International Baccalaureate program and makes teachers’ jobs tougher.

Almost a year into the new system, other Douglas County School District leaders said the verdict is still out, but that class sizes and budgets prevent them from considering options.

“I see grades down,” said Steve Fleet, IB coordinator at Douglas County High School. “I see kids who decide it’s better to have an off-period than to take a challenging academic program. The general atmosphere shifts away from the focus on academics we used to have.

“The regrettable thing is we have a movement to encourage critical and creative thinking in the district, (but) the soil in which teachers are trying to plant that seed simply won’t let it grow.”

Most students say they like the schedule’s 90-minute classes and off-periods. Those whose days end with an off-period also like leaving school at 12:30 instead of 2:50 p.m.

Most teachers aren’t as enthusiastic. The new schedule required them to teach an additional section. Class sizes are smaller, but overall student load typically is larger.

At Chaparral High School, 67 percent of students who responded to a school survey said they like the schedule, with only 31 percent of teachers agreeing. Forty-seven percent of the teachers said they don’t like the block format, and 25 percent were undecided.

“We’ve had some major changes based on budgeting constraints over the last four years,” outgoing Chaparral Principal Ron Peterson said. “Honestly, there’s been some grumbling. It can become very draining if you don’t put your energy and efforts in the right places.”

Both students and teachers who responded to Peterson’s survey said they like not having the same class every day, and believe they accomplish more during the longer class periods.

DCSD Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Dan McMinimee said the district’s leaving it to the principals to find what works best for their schools.

“We have a site-based decision-making process,” he said. “My expectation is each of their principals is doing a good job of listening to their community, while staying within budget parameters.”

Informal feedback from students and staff at Rock Canyon and Highlands Ranch high schools is similar to that at Chaparral.

“One of the reasons we didn’t do a survey is we don’t have the funding to return to the old schedule," said Rock Canyon Principal Andy Abner. “It’s not as though we have an option on the table. But through anecdotal information, when you talk to students, they like the free time. It’s more of a college feel for them. It’s a tricky balance, but I think Rock Canyon students in general handle that very appropriately and seriously.

“When you speak with teachers, it’s difficult because it’s an increased workload. What I’ve been committed to is trying to hire as many staff members as the budget will permit in order to ease the burden on any one teacher.”

If a schedule change ever occurs, it would be based on input from staff, students and community, Abner said.

“If students are realizing a benefit, and teachers are having a difficult time with it, maybe there’s something … that could be somewhere in the middle,” he said.

Highlands Ranch High School Principal Jerry Goings said his staff still is transitioning to the block schedule.

“Along with other changes within the district, staff is pretty much overwhelmed with it,” he said. “It still has definite positive results in terms of class size. We’re working through it.”