Committee Studies School-Day Schedule

By Ivana Kosir

A School Day Study Committee consisting of parents, teachers, students, and administrators has been assembled to study various school day schedules and possibly change Niles West’s schedule for the 2012-2013 school year.

The parent and teacher surveys were disclosed last week, and the student survey is expected to come out this week via email.

“The data from the survey should give us a good indication of how students feel the schedule works for them, and if they feel changes should be made,” wrote assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction Anne Roloff in an email.

Although there is no specific schedule that the school board and teachers’ union have in mind, they still want to look into different types of schedules as options, according to Roloff.

“As educators we all believe that, like curriculum and instruction, our school day should be re-examined periodically as it is fundamental to our profession,” wrote Roloff.

According to Steve Grossman, NTFT (teacher’s union) vice president and social studies teacher who is a member of the school-day committee, the administration presented four possible school day schedules (one eight-period day and three block-type schedules). All the proposals lengthened periods (the amount of time a student would be in a given class) and reduced the number of periods (fewer classes), according to Grossman. Principal Kaine Osburn said one of the models was Highland Park’s schedule, which has a nine-period configuration three days a week (Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays) and a more modular schedule on the remaining days.

Grossman said the union is concerned that the new school day might result in fewer electives (and fewer opportunities for students to take electives) and a reduction in staffing.

“The structure of our school day is an important issue for all parties: students, parents, teachers, and the administration.  Before making any changes this issue should be thoroughly studied to see if we can find a consensus about what will work best for our district.  At that point, the board and the union would need to negotiate the details of any proposed change,” Grossman said.

Osburn, however, said that an eight-period day would not result in fewer opportunities for electives.

“As long as early-bird still existed, there would be exactly the same or better opportunities for electives as right now.  Because of our current lab-schedule, if a student has a lab class, then he or she is on an eight-period schedule,” he said.  “Thus, changing to an actual eight-period day wouldn’t reduce the opportunities to take electives. So the claim of lost electives due to an eight-period day is spurious.”

Some teachers said they are afraid that if class periods are cut, valuable time will be lost.

“[If we switched to eight longer periods], I believe it would do serious damage to electives, especially newspaper and yearbook productions. When kids have a limited schedule, those are the first to go,” said yearbook adviser and English teacher Sharon Swanson.

“I think that there will be one period less for planning and meeting with students,” said math teacher Kate Buttitta.

Grossman agrees with Buttitta.

“If there were eight longer periods, there would be reduced elective offerings, and for teachers, there’s a lot that goes in to teaching a class, so it would give us less time doing behind-the-scenes work like planning, grading, and meeting with students,” he said.

Junior Connor Dyer said he is not in favor of a schedule change.

“I like the school day how it is. With nine periods, I am able to have a lunch and take core classes and classes that I actually want to take. With a schedule change, I might not be able to take electives like health careers,” Dyer said.

Others are more keen on a change.

“If there were less periods in the day, it would take pressure off longer days. Kids have a lot of homework, especially sophomore and junior years,” said sophomore Kris Trivedi.

According to Grossman, even if the schedule for next year does not change, not everyone will be completely satisfied.

“There is no one perfect school day because some models work well for some classes and not others. [For example], blocks don’t work as well for math and foreign language [courses] as they do in science classes,” said Grossman.

“There are positive and negatives to both mods and periods. I think you can make anything work,” said Battitta.

“As a social studies teacher, it doesn’t matter to me as much as other teachers. I can teach my class in lots of ways and it doesn’t matter much. As a union leader, I have to think of other teachers. We have to think about how this affects everyone,” said Grossman.