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Change from block schedule will be temporary as the school district intends to adopt hybrid model

BY SETH GORDON

Newberg Graphic reporter

Newberg High School will drop its current block class schedule in favor of a seven-period format beginning this fall, but district officials are hoping it will be a short-term move that ultimately gets all of its secondary schools to their preferred choice of a hybrid model.

Newberg High School principal Kyle Laier joined middle school principals Karen Pugsley and Michele Paton to give a presentation to the school board at its May 23 meeting in which they detailed the collaborative process they undertook to make the decision.

"I can tell you that right now there are content teams at the high school that are celebrating, because, for instance, world languages will see their kids every day," Laier told the board. "Then there are content teams that are sobbing because they now have 50 minutes to do things that will be difficult squeeze into that short a period."

Both Chehalem Valley and Mountain View middle schools already operate on a seven-period bell schedule, so the move will align them with the high school, which was one of the priorities established by a working group of administrators, teachers, students and parents from all three schools that was formed to address the issue.

The committee also identified lowering class size, increasing instructional time, providing time for teachers to collaborate, building relationships with students and supporting 21st century teaching and learning as the main priorities for any schedule and, after researching options, identified a hybrid schedule as the best solution.

Specifically, the hybrid model the committee pushed for utilizes a "straight" seven-period schedule three days a week, while the other two days would involve a few longer "block" periods and a few "regular" periods. The strength of the model comes from its ability to accommodate courses that do best when meeting every day and those, especially science and CTE courses, which require more time for proper instruction and activities, like lab experiments.

Ultimately, the committee had to abandon that model due to an issue with contract language in its collective bargaining agreement with teachers, and a lack of funding.

Laier said that moving to a straight seven-period schedule for 2017-2018 year will not only meet several other of the identified priorities, especially lower class sizes, but also puts the high school, and therefore all district secondary schools, in a better position to make that transition in the near future if they can overcome the language and funding issues.

"We really looked at this as a temporary situation," Laier said. "We know as we learn more about 21st century teaching and learning, we're going to continue to look at the schedule and hopefully come to something, whether it's a hybrid or something else. This we felt sets us up for that."

All three administrators said they were optimistic about the likelihood of overcoming those barriers in part because of the inclusive and collaborative approach the committee took, but also noted that the process itself was valuable.

"It got all of us in a room —our students, our teachers, our parents, admins, senior staff — and really made us think through what our priorities are moving forward," MVMS principal Michele Paton told the board. "So while it didn't result in a change for us immediately, it did allow us to align, which is going to be better for our kids overall, and I think we heard some voices in the room that we would not have otherwise been able to hear."

The major stumbling block arose from contract language that requires the district to schedule five prep periods a week that take place during student contact time, which rules out holding them before or after the school day.

The committee established that having teachers conduct five of seven classes per day, instead of the expected six, would meet the language requirement by allowing for two prep periods per day, but that the state funding forecast the district was building its budget around meant it couldn't afford to do that for 2017-2018.

When the group found that the only solution was to create an extra class period on "block" days, which would increase class sizes and reduce instructional time too much, it decided to abandon the hybrid model and opted for the straight seven, at least for now.

"It just got to a point where we're not going to create a funky schedule where we have a funky class that we really don't have a need for but we're just meeting contract time with," Laier said.

Classes at the high school will now be 51 minutes on regular days and 43 minutes on late start days.

"As we're doing sectioning right now at the high school, I'll tell you I'm surprised by how much lower our class sizes are actually looking compared to what they are now," Laier said. "I'm happily surprised that they're significantly lower."

Another consequence of the move will be the elimination of advisory classes at both the middle and high school levels. Laier said that the high school will address advisory topics and objectives, like college and career planning and building relationships between teachers and students, in core subject classes that will now have more time available because of the boost to instructional minutes.

"It's just a different approach," Pugsley said. "We just decided 21 minutes once a week wasn't enough to do anything, so why would we reduce instructional time to do that when we have other strategies for making personalization."

While Paton and Pugsley reported there was a strong consensus among middle school teachers for the hybrid schedule, Laier reported that the high school staff was more split. He and Superintendent Kym LeBlanc-Esparza said that at least some of that split may be the result of changing the process for establishing a bell schedule, which centered on teacher voting.

That process had established moving to trimesters as the staff's preferred option, but Laier said the committee felt that would be unwise to make such a drastic split, especially considering the committee felt moving to a hybrid was both superior and possible in the near future.

"There were folks that invested a lot of heart and energy into this that were disappointed they couldn't quite get to the hybrid they wanted," LeBlanc-Esparza said. "And there were barriers in the way, but I think we all agreed that we don't see it as being over. We see it is we can get there. We all feel it's the right thing for kids, then we can get there but we have to take this interim step first."

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