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School board discusses proposed scheduling change

By Staff | Mar 12, 2020

The Lee County School Board went through a lengthy presentation this week that outlined possible schedule changes at the high school and middle school levels.

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said the conversation regarding maximizing opportunities for students has been taking place since August. He said with the scheduling discussion taking place, social media has become very loud for those who have concerns and opinions.

“I am proud of our students for using the platforms and using their voices to really talk about what they value. When people ask me have we seen, we have read the petitions online. We read the social media posts. Mr. Simmons attended the Cape Coral High School forum where he had students lined up to talk to him. We have answered emails and phone calls. We are taking all this into consideration as we have that discussion to maximize student learning time,” Spiro said.

He said that every high school principal met with their leader team first before he or she stood in front of their faculty to have the discussion about the proposed changes. There has also been a collection of information from parents and students.

“Last week we had a meeting with the principals, chiefs. We went school by school,” Spiro said, adding this provided information of what their school community input was in regards to scheduling.

Academic Services provided a presentation during a school board workshop Monday afternoon that outlined four scheduling options with additional student minutes. The first is a four by four schedule for a seven-hour day; seven-hour school day for a seven-period day; a high school blended schedule for a seven-hour school day and a five-by-five schedule with a seven-hour 21 minute student school day.

“This is all about kids for us. This is about how we maximize learning for students. That is where our focus has been,” Spiro said.

The presentation started with a study the district did with more than 1,400 “e-walks” into classrooms while examining nine different categories. The study also presented information on whether the person observed a particular category, or did not.

Spiro said 78 percent of individuals that were observing the classroom stated that the standards were being taught to students in middle and high schools. When examining block scheduling the student engagement decreased to 31.5 percent of learners engaged in a high-yield fashion.

The district also shared how much time teachers had contact with their students in a six and a half hour school day, which ranged from 75.5 percent in elementary school to 56 percent of teacher contact with students in high school.

With additional 30 minutes in high school with a four-by-four day that engagement rose to 61 percent and 68 percent if the high school schedule changes to a seven -day period. The blended schedule student engagement is at 67 percent, while a five- by-five day having 71 percent teacher contact time with students.

“Whatever schedule you choose that is best for the students in your building, what happens during that structural time is what makes the difference for the students. There has been no decision on the schedule we are doing. We are considering all options, honestly and truly,” Spiro said. “As we get feedback from principals, we are going to look at what’s best for the students.”

School Development Executive Director Clayton Simmons said the blended model takes into consideration the concerns that were pro the seven-period day and model.

The first block, students are in class for 60 minutes every single day. The middle section would have traditional 80-minute block schedule every other day and 60 minutes for the last period. In other words there would be three rotating periods for 80-minutes a day. This model has the eight classes, which the students currently have with a block schedule.

“There would not be a loss of any option. This blends two models. It is not perfect, but it takes into consideration what both groups have talked about,” Simmons said.

The teachers would have 90 minutes of planning every day, with before and after school time.

The five-by-five option is a 7 hour 21 minute student day. The students can be blocked every day, 80 minutes with their teachers every single day. This schedule would also incorporate up to three core courses daily, resulting in 14,400 minutes per core for the year.

“This gives a lot of extra time. It is way out of the box,” Simmons said.

When comparing the four-by-four schedule, which is what the high schools currently have, to a seven period day within the same six hour 30 minute day, the total minutes per class per year increases by close to 1,000 minutes.

With the four-by-four schedule, students are in class for 84 minutes with 90 classes per year for a total of 7,560 minutes per class per year. When looking at a seven period schedule, the student is in a period for 47 minutes (within the current six hour 30 minute day), which equates to 180 classes per year for 8,460 minutes per class per year.

“Take that 47 and divide that into the amount of extra minutes gives them an extra 19 days of instruction per class,” Simmons said.

When adding 30 minutes to the student day for a total of seven hours the number per period increases in the four by four schedule, seven period schedule and blended schedule.

The four-by-four schedule, students would be in class for 92 minutes per period, 51 minutes per period for a seven-period day and with the blended schedule 60 minutes per period and 90 minutes per period.

Simmons said no matter what option is chosen there will have to be good engagement strategies while utilizing brain breaks.

“A lot of our teachers are already teaching seven of eight (classes) because we are struggling to hire teachers,” he said.

One of the side effects is increased flex period when the students are off campus. The data shows that right now 47 percent of seniors have at least one day, or one period off campus, Simmons said.

“We go anywhere from 68 percent at Fort Myers to 21 percent at Cape. These are the number of kids that are off campus. They choose not to come for one or two periods a day,” Simmons said.

Adkins said students that are not in IB program, or comprehensive career academies, that is where they get into the situation of pulling electives to fill the schedule, or pulling flex.

Simmons said they have heard a lot of talk regarding the AICE diploma students, as well as IB diploma, which is why they came up with some options regarding scheduling.

During the 2018-2019 school year there were 5,245 on time graduates with standard diplomas, 212 of those graduated with an AICE diploma, and 240 graduated with an IB diploma.

“We want the kids in the rigorous curriculum. It would help address fluff in their senior year. We want to keep it rigorous all the way through. I think that will benefit all of our students no matter what,” Simmons said of going to a technical school, or college after graduation.

He said the electives in the Cambridge AICE program are not a problem because there are many opportunities.

“It’s mainly because the way the program is set up and it is spread out more,” Simmons said.

The district came up with a handful of options for the International Baccalaureate program to help make sure the IB students have an elective with a seven-period day.

“It is important to all of us that they continue to have those options,” Simmons said.

The students have three standard level courses, three high level courses, one elective and one theory of knowledge seminar course during their junior year. Their senior year IB students have two standard level courses, three high level courses, one elective and theory of knowledge.

In option one, the student would test out of one of their standard level courses.

“You would have a The Theory of Knowledge. One of the things they do at a number of different high schools is they have something called a seminar course. Once a month they pull the kids out for four hours. A lot of the schools really liked this model because it is more in line with what the kids are actually going to see when they go to college. It is going to provide them with some stamina in a four-hour class,” Simmons said.

The second option provides students with testing out of two of their standard level courses their junior year, and having two electives their senior year.

The third option for juniors and seniors includes three standard level courses, three high level courses, an elective course and Theory of Knowledge virtual course.

The fourth option for junior and seniors for a seven-period day is three standard level courses, three high level courses, Theory of Knowledge every other day and elective every other day.

The group of students at Cape Coral High School, who quickly formed Student’s Voice, published a special edition of the school newspaper, Seahawk’s Eye, and started a petition to have their voices heard, remain concerned about the models presented.

Cape Coral High School Seahawk’s Eye Editor-in-Chief Melanie Pena, who is also an IB student, said the students found out about the different models a week ago, due to the district posting it to their website early.

“We posted it on Instagram to let them (students) know what was going to happen on March 9,” she said. “Students didn’t like the different plans put out there. They would rather not have an elective. I would prefer to keep the schedule the way it is right now. No one is complaining, I cannot see any issues with keeping it as it is right now. I don’t understand why they want to do a schedule change so badly. Right now everything is fine.”

Seahawk’s Eye Business Manager Roan Borghi said he is not impressed with the models presented.

“I understand they have been working to try to give us an elective. In trying to give us an elective, they didn’t take into consideration the extra work we have to put in,” he said.

Borghi said the proposed model entails taking one class online, testing out of a two year class in one year and having a seminar instead of in the classroom for Theory of Knowledge. He said there is more work to be done because the proposal is not feasible for students.

“Based on the options they gave us, I almost would not have an elective at all,” Borghi said. “The amount of extra work we have to go through to complete classes early, I don’t think it would be worth it.”

As an IB junior he takes seven academic classes – science, math, history, language, English, an IB elective and newspaper, which is the only thing he is pursuing within his own interest.

“My schedule is extremely full and I have to work hard to keep up with my classes, so it concerns me,” Borghi said.

He said if he could tell the board anything, it would be that they have not actively looked at how the proposed models would affect the students. The information is based on data finding.

“It doesn’t take into account how students would be affected,” Borghi said.

The proposed schedule does not allow students with the ability to complete work in a timely manner, which increases stress levels, he said. Borghi hopes the board will postpone the decision until they can gather more information.

“Go into the high school classes and talk to teachers and students and figure out how people would be affected by this instead of looking at data trends,” he said. “It’s important that everybody gets involved. Make sure their voices are heard and communicate their thoughts on this to the school board. It’s the only way to make changes.”

School Board members Betsy Vaughn asked what it would take to change curriculum maps and bus schedules if the district were to go to a seven-period day.

“It also seems to me at this point that we are not really at the point of rolling this out for next year and having the curriculum maps,” she said.

Teaching and Learning Director Candace Allevato said any schedule that they have adjusts the block time that is on the instructional guides.

“The instructional guides were laid out by standards, so regardless of the schedule we are on we are just updating one cell in each one of those of how long it would take,” she said. “Regardless of the model we land it is feasible for our teams. Once the decision is made we are not working behind the eight ball. We have been very proactive in thinking about this and what are the implications.”

Chief Operations Officer Dr. Kenneth Savage said as soon as they heard about the additional 30 minutes, the team went to work at making and putting together plausible options that could work.

“For us in transportation, when our primary mission is to educate kids and drive a significant value, we will do anything within our power to try to put together a game plan that works,” he said. “We wouldn’t bring you an option if it weren’t viable. In about two weeks time we were able to completely flip our current system working across our transportation department with routers to actually produce a feasible schedule that would work. We have that. That is already done and in place.”

Savage said the only additional change that they would have to continue to work before they brought it back to the board, was if they decided to pursue a five by five schedule.

“Certain schools would have to change their start times,” he said. “In order to do this we would have to adjust certain school start times.”

Middle school scheduling was also discussed during the workshop, which included a proposed additional 15 minutes to the school day.

School Development Executive Director Linda Maere said they are asking for 15 more minutes, which will be workable in transportation.

She said students are dropped off and already sitting on the campus in controlled areas such as the courtyard, or PE area outside.

“It’s a safety issue. This would get them into the school and into the class a little quicker. They would have a staggered time going to class.”

The benefits also include an ability to staggers breakfast times, as well as additional instructional time and enrichment opportunities and intervention opportunities.

The academic requirements include ELA classes daily for all students; math classes daily for all students; reading classes daily for level one and two students; reading classes minimally every other day for levels three, four and five; health in grade six or year long peer counseling; mental health lessons throughout the school year; district L25 ELA intervention class during the school day and tier three schools have core classes daily on six by six schedule.

“We have all put things after school. I did it myself when I was a principal and said OK, your intervention class is after school. They don’t show up. I can’t control anything other than the six and a half hours, hopefully a little bit longer time that I have with them. I can’t control anything than what I have in the school day. So our district L25 students, we are requiring them to be in some type of support class this next year,” Maere said.

The five by five schedule would have students in classes for 69 minutes and the six by six schedule would have students in class for 57 minutes.

Spiro said they know their teachers are working very hard.

“Our goal is to maximize student learning by increasing opportunities for our students. None of what we have shared today is negative on our teaching staff,” he said. “We have some amazing students in our school. We would be remiss if we didn’t continue to dig and find what are the best opportunities that we may have missed for our students.”

Board member Chris Patricca said she felt more excited and more hopeful for the potential for progress for students than she has felt since her time on the board.

“I think that is the case for the talent you have surrounded yourself with,” she said.