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Proposed school scheduling change questioned

By Staff | Mar 5, 2020

A proposed change from block scheduling to a seven-period school day has some students questioning whether any benefit would outweigh its cost.

A group of students at Cape Coral High School who were told of the change have formed an organization with dual intent: educating their fellow students through the school newspaper and, if need be, protest.

“We are really close to our teachers and we were informed about the possibility about these changes,” said Cape Coral High School Seahawk’s Eye Editor-in-Chief Melanie Pena.

“Once we found out we were really interested and concerned about the changes. We did a ton of research. I was in charge of the factual article. I had to do a lot of research on the actual facts and couldn’t be biased. I emailed every member of the (school) board, the superintendent and watched the board meetings. I emailed teachers in other schools. I went out to every possible place I could to find out information.”

What they found out is that the change could impact a student’s option for electives, paticularly for students in advanced placement classes.

School officials say, though, that a seven-period school day means more education hours.

“We currently have the least amount of instructional time during the school day when compared to similar size districts across the state, so there are ongoing discussions about adding 30 minutes and how to best schedule classes,” district spokesperson Rob Spicker said. “High School principals are providing their feedback this week and we expect a School Board briefing next week to discuss recommendations. Once a decision has been made it will be thoroughly communicated to our staff, students and parents.”

During a workshop last month Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said if there was an increase in the revenue for academic services (a $28 million estimated cost), the team came up with three areas with the greatest opportunities for students. First, he said, they would love to extend the teacher and student day by 30 minutes.

“As most of you know our middle and high schools, both of them, when we compare ourselves to the top 10 districts, we are at the bottom with the amount of time we stand before the children,” he said. “We have the least amount of time with our students in both of those particular secondary areas. We would love to expand the amount of time our teachers are with their students by 30 minutes.”

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said principals have been working on the student instructional day proposal and are bringing back a recommendation. He said the extended 30 minutes per day would be a negotiated piece because it would be an increase in the teachers scheduled day.

“It has to be negotiated and would also have a financial impact because compensation would be a portion of that,” Adkins said.

The average increase for teachers, if approved, would be about $2,500.

“We have to start looking at being creative by how we increase the amount of time our teachers are with our students. Whether or not we do across the board K through 12, everybody, or we have a phase in process,” Spiro said. “I do think there is definitely a great need.”

Spiro said they are also looking at expanding after school opportunities for students, as well as deepening tutoring. He said they would like to have fifth quarter for all students, adding 28 days onto the school year and doing away with summer school.

“Have fifth quarter be the extended learning time for students so they have extra time they need to gain that academic experiences they need, as well as prepare them moving forward to the next grade level,” Spiro said. “If we had an increase in revenue those would be the three areas academic services would like to focus on.”

In another school board meeting last month, Akins reiterated that the district has had tremendous progress with every measure over the years, but he believes the No. 1 thing that is limiting them is the amount of time teachers are standing in front of students for instructional time.

“If you are in an algebra class, they are spending more time in Miami Dade taking algebra than what you see here in Lee County,” Adkins said. “The team has identified that as an issue. The academic services team is working on a plan to address that for the following year.”

Other school districts have a seven-hour student day. In Lee County, the school day is six hours 30 minutes. Officials say this means that students are 30 minutes “behind” each day, or a total of 90 hours of instructional time each school year. The district maintains that if they were able to get that time and be on an equal playing field, they guarantee that with the quality of teachers and staff, they would surpass and close the gap.

School choice decreased the amount of time students are in classroom to accommodate for the travel time.

The discussion of going to seven classes a day at the high school, instead of having block scheduling, which would eliminate an elective, was also part of the discussion.

“I truly believe we can make gains by making sure by the senior year we are not just loading up with junk in the last schedule. I have all my stuff done, so I am taking electives. This year they are really addressing that so we have academics infused all four years, including the last year,” Adkins said.

He said he has always believed that with a class such as mathematics, seeing a student every day makes a difference, especially for those at-risk students.

“They have studied the problem and brought real solutions for it. Transportation is working on it from that side. Business service is working on compensation and the money portion. For me, we do have solutions,” he said. “I feel pretty confident about the direction we are heading and looking forward to implementing strategies for next year.”

Pena said she was really confused when her teachers had a meeting on Feb. 26 on the pros and cons of the plan and to talk about the seven-period day, when the board members had not been briefed about the plan.

She said as a student body, they feel that the proposed changes are already in motion

“They are telling us that it is basically in the works and are pushing for it,” Pena said.

Cape Coral High School Seahawk’s Eye Graphic Design Editor Owen Foster-Hickey said if they did away with block scheduling he would lose his opportunity to practice and advance himself in journalism, a career he wants to pursue. He said as an IB student, he takes seven mandatory college level courses, leaving him with the opportunity to only take one elective class in the eight class block schedule.

“The proposed schedule change would have us cut all the electives that we could no longer take and lose in general,” Foster-Hickey said.

He said one of the main reasons for block scheduling is to prepare students for college, by having real-world situations by not doing the same exact thing every day.

Pena said they have eight periods, which alternates four classes a day. Although there is a benefit of seeing your teachers consistently, she said it does not outweigh the cost of taking away an elective from all students. The elimination of an elective, Pena said really affects IB students who only have one elective.

“We understand where they are coming from, but we don’t see the point in those changes,” she said. “I am able to have an elective and my elective is newspaper. I am editor in chief, so I have put a lot of work into the system we have made. I sacrificed a lot for the newspaper — staying up working on design and articles. It’s terrible to think that next year I might not be able to do that. As an IB student we are encouraged to be active after school. We think that newspaper wouldn’t be able to continue if it is not a class. That is why we are being so brave and forward with this campaign we have started. We might not have the class next year.”

The campaign has included a special edition of the newspaper, Seahawk’s Eye, with a news article and an editorial. A campaign was also done on Instagram, where different students and their opinions on the matter were posted from female, male, IB and non IB student perspectives.

In addition, Foster-Hickey said they have also created a petition, which began last Wednesday. Within three days they had more than 1,000 signatures. Five days later, they have 1,250 signatures.

“Because of the outstanding success of that, we decided to organize a few other things,” he said. “There are so many people that have been upset with these changes, confused and worried about the future of their school, (which is why) we decided to make a group, kind of a club. We are calling it the Student’s Voice. What this means, the group of us participating are trying to speak for the general population of students and make it clear that we have a voice. The school district, teachers and administration all believe we don’t have a voice.”

The Student’s Voice has about 100 supporters, people actively asking how to help and contribute.

On Monday, a community open forum with Adkins, administration and board members, was held at Cape Coral High School with more than 50 students in attendance on a one day notice.

“We are trying to be reasonable and rationale with opinions and thoughts,” Foster-Hickey said.

School Board Member Mary Fischer said the community forum on Monday did not have the proposed schedule change on the agenda, but because students and parents showed up with the topic on their agenda, they created a break out portion to have a discussion.

“The kids are worried about not having electives. There has been an assurance that they will have an opportunity for electives,” Fischer said.

She went on to say that she thinks that kids in the district on block scheduling have significant less time with their teachers.

“The board is going to be briefed on this on Monday,” Fischer said, adding that they will then have enough tools to ask questions about the schedule change. “This is in the discussion phase in academic services.”

She said she needs more information to share her thoughts about the proposed schedule change.

“I am a big supporter of arts and athletics; often times that is what keeps kids in school and more well rounded. I also want to ask more questions about how these changes impact our advanced kids, but our kids that have more challenges in academic performance,” Fischer said. “I want to know that they would have the opportunity for electives before I can decide and support it. I am going to prepare my questions for Monday and see what happens. I will keep an open mind.”

Student’s Voice is expected to hand out 1,000 pin back buttons that have its logo, phrases and graphics on them today. The goal is to have students wear the buttons to show they are actively supporting the cause.

On Tuesday, March 10, about 100 students are expected to be in attendance at the school board meeting with white signs in an effort to speak their voice.

“I feel that the support that we got from other students, teachers and members of our community has been outstanding,” Foster-Hickey said.

“We are trying to get the people that are important in making these decisions listen to us.”