Scheduling a hot topic at BOE meeting

BUCKHANNNON – To block or not to block?

That was the question Upshur County school officials debated when Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Bob Wilmoth presented proposed scheduling changes – specifically, block scheduling – that may be implemented at the high school next year.

Wilmoth discussed the differences Tuesday between the seven-day period schedule that is currently in effect and the new scheduling system, known as A/B block scheduling.

Currently, under the seven-period system, students take seven classes every day, earn 28 credits in four years, experience seven transitions every day and have 45-minute classes and a 45-minute lunch. The typical student load for teachers is 150 per day.

Under A/B block scheduling, Wilmoth said, students would take four classes a day, earn 32 credits in four years, experience four transitions every day, receive 87 minutes of instruction per period, have a 30-minute lunch and enjoy the opportunity to enroll in an expanded selection of electives.

Teachers would instruct approximately 75 students a day.

Wilmoth referenced a quote attributed to Albert Einstein in which Einstein defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In order to improve the high school’s academic outcomes, changing the way the students learn is essential, he said.

A student’s day would consist of four classes; breakfast after first period; time for remediation, enrichment or an advisory period; and a lunch period. Vocational students enrolled at the Fred Eberle Technical Center in Buckhannon would spend two nearly-three-hour periods at the center a day in addition to a lunch period at the high school.

Many advantages are associated with A/B block scheduling, Wilmoth argued. Among them are increased time to complete homework, less stress with fewer classes per day and remediation/enrichment time during the day. Block scheduling would also allow students to be more actively involved in clubs at school and afford them greater opportunities for work experience, he said.

Wilmoth said the majority of teachers appeared to be on board with the change, but he couldn’t get an accurate read on their opinions because “what they tell you they think and what they actually think can sometimes be two different things.”

“I think it’s about the commitment that people make to making it work,” Wilmoth said, “and I can’t imagine that meeting with (teachers) to help you (students) remediate your skills on a weekly basis – when they know what your deficiencies are – cannot help you (students) succeed in school as opposed to ‘well, there’s credit recovery and tutoring after school if you want to stay,’ which to a teenager (becomes) ‘well, I don’t want to stay.'”

Wilmoth said he believes block scheduling will make a “huge difference” in the school’s graduation rate.

“I think one of the problems with schools the size of Buckhannon-Upshur is it’s too easy for kids to fall through the cracks, and I think this is another little safety net where we can get them before they fall through the cracks,” he said. “We know there will be bumps in the road but I have every confidence that our teachers and kids can do this, and I think that we can solve any problems that come from it, and there will be – there’s no doubt about that.

“There’s problems that we have now in what we’re doing,” Wilmoth added, “and like Albert (Einstein) says, we can’t just keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.”

Board member Pat Long said that while he sees the value in exploring different methods of educating students, “I’m a little disturbed that you don’t have a better feel for what your staff thinks.”

“It doesn’t matter whether you have a seven-period day or a three-period day or any kind of block, it’s the teacher,” Long told Wilmoth. “The principal needs to be out of his office in the classroom making sure that the other teachers besides the AP teachers – that those other folks (teachers) need to be kept with their feet to the fire so that they can engage these kids and do this.

“I think it’s a good idea. I like the remediation on a regular basis – a lot of kids need that,” Long continued, “but if you don’t get out of your office and check on these other teachers, then it might not be so engaging and it won’t work.”

Wilmoth assured Long he was “out there,” and estimated that three-fourths of his staff is “OK” with the concept of block scheduling, while one-fourth harbors concerns and questions about it.

Board member Tammy Samples said she’s very concerned about fine arts, performing arts, music and theater classes being negatively impacted by the implementation of block scheduling.

“I just need to reiterate that this can’t be at a detriment to the arts,” Samples said. “I’m very concerned about that. For some of them (students), that’s the only thing that keeps them there. History’s nothing to them if they can’t do that thing they love.”

“I don’t see where we’re cutting any arts,” Wilmoth replied. “We’ve got the same number of teachers in the arts; we’re not cutting any arts teachers, so I don’t know why that would be a concern.”

Longtime B-UHS Band Director Danny Williams, who signed up to speak during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting, explained his issues with the scheduling.

Due to the nature of block scheduling, band directors may have students in class for one semester – and then not have the opportunity to instruct them again for a period of months or years, which obviously disrupts a student’s progress, he said.

“Block scheduling routinely destroys bands,” he said. “It decimates them. There is no other single high school county that has the consistent record of excellence that Upshur County has. There’s isn’t one. I see now with block scheduling as threatening that because when you institute it, you can destroy a band in no time flat.

“But since block is probably going to occur,” Williams said, “my argument is, band should be a priority if not the priority.” Bands are comprised of a large number of students and are highly visible, which justifies prioritizing them, he said.

“People expect to see that band, man,” Williams said.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Superintendent of Schools Roy Wager said he also has concerns about block scheduling.

“I want to make sure that it’s done correctly,” he said. “I do have concerns.”

However, the implementation of block scheduling does not require board approval, he said.

“They just go forward,” he said, “but I just want to make sure, is the staff on board?”

If the majority of teachers are not in favor of the change, block scheduling isn’t likely to succeed, he said.

“The board can always choose to say they don’t want it being done,” he added. “They didn’t do that tonight. They just wanted to ask questions, so as I bring more information back to the board, they always have the option of saying, ‘we prefer you not do that.'”