By SHEA STASKOWSKI
Starkville High School students will be following a block schedule come the fall semester.
The Starkville School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a four-by-four block schedule for the coming school year. The high school currently operates on a modified block, which features A and B days that rotate.
“I don’t know if I was necessarily looking into a four-by-four schedule as much as I was trying to evaluate the current schedule,” SHS Principal Keith Fennell said. “It was more of a routine administrative decision. There were two reoccurring concerns that resurfaced during this two-year period. One was the retention of material and the necessity to review and re-teach with an every other day rotation. The second was the rotation itself. Those were the two things that continued to be discussed.”
Fennell began to research what high performing and star schools across the state were doing as far as scheduling, but continued to find that it was not the schedule implemented that affected test scores, but rather the quality of instruction.
“Quality instruction directly affects the success of a school,” Fennell said. “I had contacted the Mississippi Department of Education and really wanted to get a window reflection of what the high performing schools in the state were using. I found that the quality of instruction bring you to that accreditation because within those schools, some were using the four-by-four, some were using the AB schedule and others were on the seven periods.”
Fennell added that he is not convinced that SHS could not become a high performing, or even star school, on the current AB schedule if given more time for it to work. The AB schedule was newly-implemented at SHS when Fennell arrived at the start of the 2009-2010 school year. Having less than two full years under the system, Fennell will not receive more data on the system until state test scores are returned later this spring.
“With one year’s data returned on the current schedule, I’m not convinced that the AB couldn’t provide for us what we need,” Fennell said. “However, I know the four-by-four does add a couple of proponents like addressing the retention concerns as well as providing the opportunity for remediation.”
With the current modified block, students are enrolled in eight classes. On the A days, students take four classes, and then on B days, students take another four. The A and B days rotate so that students are not in the same classes on consecutive days.
Teachers and parents have reported that retention of material is a factor for students because they are often subject to a three-day break when a Thursday class meets one week, and then not again until the following Monday.
During the board meeting, Supt. Judy Couey explained that she received calls from parents who are also concerned that when students don’t feel the need to complete the day’s homework assignments until the next day because they have the time that they are not retaining the material and are simply playing catch up after a break from their class.
Teachers were reporting that the first half of class time is often taken up with reviewing what had been taught two days prior instead of moving on in the lesson, Fennell added.
With a four-by-four schedule, students will take only four classes per semester. They will still receive eight class credits per year, but they will attend the four classes each day for an entire semester. Then the next semester, they will take four new classes each day.
Another proponent for the four-by-four is that students will have an immediate opportunity within the same school year to re-take a course. If a student fails a course in the fall semester, they can re-enroll in that same course for the spring, and given they pass, will not fall behind in course credits.
A third proponent is that students will also have the opportunity to take multiple core subjects in one school year, such as algebra fall semester and geometry spring semester. Before, students could only take one math for an entire school year.
Lastly, though not a proven proponent, Fennell feels that by having just four classes a semester in which to focus that students may incur less stress compared with the traditional eight courses they were taking.
“In my opinion, I don’t see a major change because the period of instruction time is the same,” Fennell said.
Currently, students are taught on a 90-minute block, but they are taking eight classes simultaneously for an entire school year.
“Next year, they will take a 90-minute block, but we will focus our attention on just four classes for the fall semester and four different classes for the spring semester.”
Fennell added that this schedule has been used before in SHS’s history, and it is probably the most utilized schedule in the last decade, which will make it more familiar to many teachers than the AB schedule, which was new two years ago.
Fennell admitted that when he appeared before the board, he wasn’t expecting them to make a decision so soon, but understands that having a direction heading into next school year is better than waiting.
“It’s something that I’m confident that the administration has put a lot of time and effort into it,” Board President Pickett Wilson said on the swift vote. “Dr. Sewell, as the assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, has a lot of experience with this. I just know [the administration has] done their homework. I know she has done all the back ground research.”
Wilson explained that as a board member, she fully believes the four-by-four will decrease the drop-out rate as students will have the immediate opportunity to re-take a class. And as a mother of incoming freshman, she welcomes the opportunity for her children to take just four courses in one semester instead of having to be “bogged down” by eight courses, she said.
“The main thing is that I know that Dr. Sewell... did her homework, and I am confident that it is going to help our students.”