Killing Time

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After dozens of months of meetings, planning sessions, brainstorming, and discussions, a scheduling plan was drafted.

Three years ago, administrators convened a committee of faculty, students, parents, and community members to come up with a vision of the school in the 21st century. All ideas were welcome. They talked about the latest research on school restructuring, brain-based learning, strategic planning, team building, curriculum development, and other popular topics.

Then last year, after dozens of months of meetings, planning sessions, brainstorming, and discussions, a scheduling plan was drafted. But in addition to more varied class periods, the plan calls for an interdisciplinary curriculum and team teaching across subjects, more student choices and personal responsibility for their learning, and classes that are based on mastery learning and student performance, not seat time.

Rumors of a radical plan for the school made their way through the grapevine, and some teachers, parents, and students became alarmed. Would students be required to stay in school 12 hours a day? Would all classes be offered in the extended format? Would teachers be expected to handle more classes? Would the potential for more free time create chaos and increase behavioral problems among students?

School officials headed off the controversy by reaching out to all interested parties. Student facilitators were trained to lead discussions among focus groups of parents, teachers, and fellow students. Those discussions were followed by a two-hour community forum that packed the meeting room.

"Students and teachers were either really happy about it or totally rejected the idea," says Sarah Faulkner, who was a facilitator at some of the sessions last year while a senior at the school. "Some students felt like we were turning everything upside down for a small amount of students" who would participate.

Many doubted the plan would work and came up with a heady list of barriers.

The first was money. The plan sounded costly because of the additional courses and extended hours that would place a heavier burden on the teaching staff. Support personnel, including counselors and nurses, also would have to be on campus throughout the longer school day.

To limit costs, teachers were asked to volunteer for an extra course for which they would receive 20 percent additional compensation. The support staff juggled hours so that some of them would work through the evenings. The idea, Ewing says, is that money would be saved on new salaries and employee benefits and teachers would have incentives to pick up the additional load.

The extended time format of block classes—which means fewer hours in class each week—is not suitable for all disciplines, some teachers argue.

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