After two years on a block schedule, Mountain Vista High School will return to the more traditional class periods for the 2014-15 academic year. At least four other Douglas County School District high schools want to follow suit.
Mountain Vista parents said the primary reason for veering away from the current 6-of-8 block schedule is to ease teacher workloads, bolster staff morale and ensure quality teachers stay.
"Our teachers need to see some victories," said Curt Coffman, co-chairman of MVHS' School Accountability Committee. "They need to see that somebody's really paying attention to what they can do, and that there is some kind of advocacy there. I think this is one step in the right direction."
Concern about upperclassmen not spending enough time in school also played a part in the decision.
Most Douglas County high schools have been on the 6-of-8 schedule for the last two years. Under it, students have fewer classes per day but meet for longer, 90-minute periods than under the 5-of-7 schedule. It also requires all high school teachers to teach an additional class.
Mountain Vista will hire seven teachers to evenly distribute the workload on the 5-0f-7 schedule, thanks to a steadily improving economy and rising state funds.
Since budget and scheduling concerns prompted the block schedule's implementation in 2012-13, per-pupil funding has increased about $280.
Because Mountain Vista's enrollment is growing faster than other high schools, Principal Mike Weaver said, "I think I was the first one that was able to do it feasibly."
He may not be the last.
Rock Canyon, Highlands Ranch, Chaparral and ThunderRidge also are contemplating a return to the 5-of-7 schedule, according to a list of budget priorities submitted to the District Accountability Committee earlier this year.
"We would like to request that Rock Canyon High School return to a 5/7 schedule to increase instructional minutes and to reduce the number of off periods students have access to," reads RCHS' top budget priority submitted Jan. 31.
Instructional time at MVHS will increase by about 20 minutes per-class, per-week under the schedule, which is a return to one last used in 2011-12. Students will see their teachers four times a week instead of three, and have fewer of the long off-periods that have prompted community concern about idle teens.
The change also will "meet the needs of some of our teachers who were working so hard..." said Weaver. "I think it was certainly a relief and a boost in morale we were able to (change the schedule)."
MVHS is returning to a modified 5-of-7 schedule, with three days a week of 55-minute classes and two days a week of 90-minute block classes.
A district leader said all high schools considering a different schedule have DCSD's blessing.
"Buildings make their own decisions, as we've said all along," said Dan McMinimee, assistant superintendent of secondary education. "I love the fact they have the dollars right now to even have the conversation."
DCSD requires schools to meet specific criteria in any schedule they choose, McMinimee said, including keeping core class sizes to 30 students or fewer, retaining all electives, meeting required instructional minutes and not capping the number of classes a student can take.
Mountain Vista surveyed teachers and students before making the decision, especially juniors and seniors who'd experienced both schedules and have the off-periods that concerned some.
"Obviously, kids enjoyed the free time (under the block)," Weaver said. "My follow-up question was, 'Have you used the time wisely?' About 50 percent used the time wisely and 50 percent not so much.
"They're still going to have time off. There just won't be the possibility they'll have three (90-minute) block periods off."
Under the block, Weaver said some students only were spending about 60 percent of the instructional day in classes.
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