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School District postpones plan to replace block scheduling with 7-period day

By Staff | Apr 21, 2020

Plans to replace block scheduling with a longer seven-period day at public high schools in Lee County next year have been postponed.

School District of Lee County Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins told School Board members during a virtual meeting Tuesday that he agrees, now is not the time to make the controversial change, although students would benefit, the primary reason the administration pushed for the restructuring of classroom time.

“It is also our job to listen,” he said. “Based on the research that has been shared, I and my administrative team still firmly believe that adding time to the high school day and moving from a block schedule to seven periods will greatly benefit all of the students. I also believe over the course of the next few months many of the concerns that have been brought forth regarding the change will be worked out at the satisfaction of many of our parents and students.”

Adkins said he also understands upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now closed schools through the end of the school year, forcing students and teachers into distance learning. He said they have been taking the time to read and listen to the communications that have been coming into the district about making this change now.

“It proves that this is definitely a challenge. As a result, I am suggesting that we delay these changes and to keep status quo in terms of the schedule for the 2020-2021 school year,” Adkins said.

In the interim, the district can better share the reasons for the changes of the schedule and work through the concerns that have been expressed.

“The recommendation is to implement a seven hour, seven period day at the high school for the 2021-2022 school year as well as launch a five by five program at the two schools that we have previously identified,” Adkins said of Dunbar High School and East Lee County High School. “It was never our intention to cause additional stress. We simply made a decision we felt was in the best interest of all of our students. Listening to the feedback from our community, it is clear that we need to spend more time explaining the why. We are committing to doing that.”

Board Member Melisa Giovannelli asked that if block scheduling was not really beneficial, then why are middle school students going to remain on a five by five block schedule while the high school schedules will change to a seven period day. She said her understanding is that block scheduling prepares students for college and middle school is a stepping stone to high school.

Adkins explained that middle schools use block scheduling a bit differently than do high schools. In middle school, students have their academic classes every single day. He said the five by five block schedule also allows middle school students the opportunity to have their electives every other day.

“The problem in high school is the amount of seat time required to get that credit,” Adkins said.

Transportation was also discussed and the implications it would entail for a schedule change.

The proposed five by five schedule for Dunbar High School and East Lee County High School would increase the students day to seven hours and 21 minutes. He said that would have an impact on when students are going to be picked up and travel time home, which also would have an impact on middle school student bus transportation.

“The last thing we want to happen is implement a major pilot and start to have difficulties with transportation in terms of other schools those buses service,” Adkins said.

Despite district belief that students needs more instructional time, Adkins said they have still made some substantial progress, with some high school achievement advancements.

Most high schools saw gains in English Language Arts efficiency, according to Adkins. An overwhelming majority of high schools saw significant and substantial gains in math proficiency with the majority of them seeing double digit increases in math learning gains. He said most high schools also saw increase in math learning gains among the lowest 25 percent.

There also were gains in social studies among high schools.

“One-hundred percent of our high schools saw an increase in their total points earned on the Florida Department of Education school grades. One-hundred percent of our high schools have seen an increase in their graduation rates,” he said. “Traditional high schools have had a graduation rate go up 4 percent to 92.3 percent. A four-percent increase. The highest graduation rate that we have seen. Despite the challenges that we have talked about with our unique population and our time we would like to see increase at our high schools we have still been successful.”

Board member Betsy Vaughn thanked Adkins for listening and realizing that, all things considered, the postponement is an excellent idea.

“It was rolling out awfully fast with COVID-19. I think when our kids finally go back to school in August there is going to be enough of an adjustment for the kids and teachers and for everybody. When we roll something out like this we want to make sure there are optimal decisions. I’m glad you made that decision and I am looking forward to having all of us on the board having some input with some ideas.”

Board member Gwyn Gittens said when looking at this picture of scheduling times, start times, attendance and transportation it’s as if they are doing a 500 piece puzzle. She said they need to put the puzzle pieces on the table to sort them out and figure out what goes where because it is all intertwined.

“This will give us an opportunity, and time as a community, and all stakeholders, to look at all the puzzle pieces to decide where they go and what works best,” Gittens said, adding that her suggestion is they look at everything at once.

Adkins provided a timeline for board members during the meeting of workshops to be held, and information provided. Two topics the board members shared concern over were transportation and high school electives, both of which will be addressed during the meetings.

“I would suggest July, or August we talk to the board about our initial findings relative to third quarter data and provide a little more information relative to what our options are to the board. Have that conversation in August with a general direction,” he said. “August and September our school principals can talk to staff and get feedback on these different models and then we can gather that feedback from our staff, district and student advisory committees.”

The conversations would also involve TALC and SPALC to have a wide audience of stakeholders.

“Then we would come back to the board in early October with a stronger recommendation based on feedback we have seen,” Adkins said, adding that it would give the board an opportunity to consider different options.

With the discussions impacting bell schedules and student assignment, a decision would be made prior to December as open houses begin for families to make decisions for student assignments. Adkins said the latest possible decision point would be in November, so families going into student assignment will know the start, end time and student schedule.

Adkins also touched upon employment and budget, due to board concerns.

He said as they go down the river they are going to encounter rough waters because of COVID-19.

As far as employment, this is the time of the year, during April and May, that the district begins looking at collective bargaining, evaluations and reappointments. Adkins said they have always worked with their employees, but with these unprecedented times, the district is doing more.

Chief Human Resource Officer Angela Pruitt said there are two processes that are taking place, with the first being what happens every year — the normal surplus process. She said what they are adding this year is for the folks who are on an annual contract and may be displaced due to the current budgetary situation.

“We are literally going to help those folks into positions throughout the district,” Pruitt said.

In years past, teachers have had to go out and apply for another position in the district and hope they get an interview at a particular location. Instead, Pruitt said they are going to take more of a centralized hiring position relative to any folks in this particular position.

“This applies to employees with effective, or highly effective evaluations,” she said.

The district will be monitoring, so if a school says they no longer need that seventh science teacher, and, come July, they all of a sudden need that subject, that employee will come back to that school.

The effective and highly effective evaluations will be obtained from the start of the school year until mid-March when COVID-19 regulations started.

“Typically what happens at this time of the year is our budget department, human resources and development directors start working individually with principals to make staffing decisions relative to the budget,” Adkins said. “COVID-19 does have an impact.”

He said school and department leaders have been asked to be conservative with this year’s budget, so money can be applied to next year’s budget.

Chief Financial Officer Ami Desamours said they are analyzing potential options and are working closely with all of the high school principals.

Giovannelli also asked about the savings accumulated without feeding students and busing them to schools.

Desamours said there are places in the budget where some items are not being spent right now, such as fuel costs due to not transporting students, or overtime in transporting students and substitute teacher costs. As far as food service funds, it is in a separate fund.

“The reimbursement received from the Department of Agriculture is not quite the same as it would be for breakfast and lunch in a regular scenario. The revenue to expense ratio we are still doing the calculations in food service,” she explained.

Desamours said they are still waiting for numbers from the Economic Development Office in terms of impacts across the state for the budget. She said in addition they are waiting on how the budget impacts will be handled by the legislatures.

“The impact to the local economy statewide is substantial. The impact to our school budget could be substantial,” Desamours said.

She said they will create different scenarios and put some recommendations forward on how to react to them. That information they are waiting for also includes the sales tax revenue, which could have impacts for several years.