Sunday, February 3, 2008

Letter to the Streetsboro PTA

I recently spoke to the PTA where I teach about scheduling at our high school. Someone asked if my information was published, so I thought I'd post it here. Our high school is on block scheduling, and I'm not only a big fan of it, but I also think it is the best fit for our school right now.

To: Parents, teachers, and community members attending 1.30.08 PTA meeting.
From: Greg Cielec, Streetsboro High School English Teacher

Re: Alternative Scheduling at Streetsboro High School
Why We Restructured our School
In the early 1990’s a committee of teachers, students, and parents came together at Streetsboro High School to formulate plans to restructure and improve the high school. After a year of study that included visiting many other schools, doing research and attending workshops, and having outside administrators and teachers speak to our faculty, a decision was made to restructure our school calendar into a 4 x 4 block schedule. We then spent two years in training teachers, with many in house and outside workshops and sessions. Students and parents were often involved.
The reasons for restructuring using block scheduling were many:
•Make our school a more academic environment.
•Have more students go on to two and four year colleges.
•Add more credits for graduation.
•Add more requirements.
•Get rid of study halls filled with students wasting time.
•Get more students involved in activities and clubs outside of their classes.
•More thorough use of class time by teachers, limiting the 10-15 minutes used in each class for attendance, review, homework check, etc., to four times a day.
•Opportunity for those who fail a class not to fall too far behind.
•Higher attendance rate.
•Less problems in the hallways because there would be less passing times.
•improved teacher/student rapport.
•Use of more creative class activities and teaching methods such as learning projects, partnered work, higher level thinking activities, interactive projects, hands-on approaches to problem solving, cooperative learning, interdisciplinary classes and activities, and cutting edge use of technology in the classroom.
•Teaching concepts instead of pages in a book.
•To make Streetsboro High School an innovative school for once, instead of doing the same old thing like most other schools.
How Block Scheduling has Affected our School
Restructuring our school day using block scheduling has helped our school achieve most if not all of the above. Last spring for the fourth consecutive year we sent over 50% of our graduates to college or to the military, before block scheduling that amount was under 25%. Our credits for graduation went from 16 to 26, and graduation requirements have gone up in every core department. Instead of sitting in study halls, students sit in classes with real teachers all day, at one time it was not uncommon to have over eighty students in study hall at one time. Everyday during intervention students are being tutored, seeking extra help, attending club meetings, etc. Teachers are using a variety of teaching methods to reach every individual student’s needs, with individual contact with every student every day.
The high school during our block scheduling years has carried the school district on its report cards. In 1998 when state report cards were first issued, Streetsboro Schools met only 6 out of 18 State Standards; all 6 were at the high school. In 2000 the district met 7 out of 18 state standards, all 7 were at the high school. In 2002 the district met 18 out of 27 performance standards, with 15 of them at the high school.
The last two years Streetsboro High School has been rated an Excellent School by the State of Ohio.
Many of the things our district and high school can brag about are directly a result of block scheduling, or have gone to new and higher levels in the block: Our TV and radio programs, our award winning publications, marching band, our technology classes, just to name a few.
One of the big changes in our school population over the last several years has been the influx of high school transfer students, ESL students, and students with special needs. Over the last several school years we have averaged over fifty new students each year at the high school. Many of these students, besides having special needs, come from poor academic-achieving inner city schools. Block scheduling has allowed us to set up extra interventions, without missing any regular class time, to prepare these students for the OGT tests, as well has help them catch up in their regular classes.
Block scheduling is also very conducive to our Post Secondary Opportunity students, allowing them to take semester-long classes at our school in the morning and then attend college classes in the afternoon.
The Need for Alternative Scheduling
Block Scheduling is just one of many forms of alternative scheduling now being implemented by many quality high schools in Northern Ohio and beyond. Many quality public and private schools use the 4 by 4 block, including Twinsburg, Canfield, Tallmadge, Bay Village, Walsh Jesuit, and Cardinal Mooney High Schools. Some high schools use a partial block schedule, including Hudson and Beachwood. Some schools have gone to fewer periods and have longer year-long classes, including Orange, Solon, and Rocky River. Revere High School is on a three semester schedule, with five classes per tri-semester.
Schools are now student centered learning environments, not teacher centered as they were when most of our teachers and parents went to school. The old model of a teacher standing in front of the class and lecturing has been replaced by students being active learners in a variety of class activities. This learning model, as well as the use of technology in classes, demands longer class periods and more individual student/teacher contact. Alternative schedules, especially block scheduling, allow for this. There are very few schools still on a traditional eight or nine period day, and many of them are currently researching alternative schedules to allow for longer class periods and more student teacher contact.
No Schedule is Perfect
No class schedule is ideal and meets the needs of every single student and teacher. We have made changes over the years. During the 2003/2004 school year we tried two year-long forty-five minute periods, but teachers and students in those classes strongly preferred eighty minute classes and we eliminated them. The last two years we have tried alternating year-long morning classes; however, the majority of faculty and students again prefer the traditional four block schedule.
We know there are critics of block scheduling, as well as other forms of alternative scheduling. There are also many criticisms of traditional scheduling, evident by the many schools that have changed class schedules. Our faculty is made up of many members who were trained to teach on the block and have done it successfully for years. We have many younger teachers who did their student teaching on the block, and who came out of college teaching programs that stressed student-centered learning. We even have a fair amount of teachers who were taught on the block (or another alternative schedule) while they were in high school, and gravitated to Streetsboro because of the block.
The faculty and administration of Streetsboro High School are not against changing our schedule. We have an ongoing scheduling committee and, as already stated, have tried several things over the last few years. However, we recognize the fact that any major changes in the schedule should be well thought out and researched, and probably can not be implemented until we are in a new building. When we did go to block it was after a three-year period of research, investigation, observation, and training. Major changes should include input from both the teachers and administration. For many reasons, many of which have already been stated, the block has been a good fit for
Circumstances Unique to Streetsboro High School
Streetsboro High School has some major, special circumstances that many people might not beware of. The first is the state of our building: antiquated, undersized, and in poor condition, with poor lighting and acoustics. Small hallways, classrooms, and cafeteria; only one gym, and an undersized one at that; no fine arts facilities and too many classes taking place in modular units. Bathrooms that are embarrassing. There is no way we can have our students out in the hallways more than they are now; block scheduling keeps hall traffic to the minimum.
We have over ninety students who have special needs, with thirty-two in our sophomore class alone. A quarter of our students have transferred into our district during their high school years (we have over 70 transfers this year alone so far), many from underachieving urban school districts. Six of our classrooms are modular units. We have eight students in a Multiple Handicapped Unit, and five in a Cooperative Learning Program. Longer class periods, taking fewer classes at a time, more student/teacher contact, and less passing time in the hallways benefits all of these special groups. Plus, these are all our students, and we must have a schedule in place to meet their needs.
Community Concerns
Many of the concerns raised by parents are concerns that are shared by our faculty and administration. For example, we strongly believe that new teachers who have not taught on an alternative or block scheduling should get additional training. But you must remember that resources for inservice and training are limited, and new and old teachers are constantly mandated to be trained on a variety of other topics including HIV/AIDS education, diversity in the classroom, cooperative learning, team teaching to meet the needs of all children, OGT preparation and testing, etc. The list is endless, thank our politicians.
However, almost all of our younger teachers have been trained in the student centered teaching model, and have been skilled in a variety of teaching techniques and activities.
Some Misc. Comments/Ideas
1. Block Scheduling does not eliminate poor teachers. Teachers who can not teach on the block would also not be successful on other schedules.
2. The block scheduling wording in our contract was put there by an administrator, not our union. She felt alternative scheduling was a good thing and saw that it would greatly improve our high school. The top public school districts in northern Ohio, districts like Hudson, Orange, Independence, and Chagrin Falls, share several things in common, one of them being strong, active teacher unions. Parents should appreciate what a strong teacher union brings to a school district.
3. Teachers are professional people, licensed and certified by the state. Each one of us pass comprehensive tests, must have a four year degree in our subject area, and also must attain a master’s degree. It is not an easy profession, especially the first four or five years. Please accept us as professionals in our field.
3. 4. In a school district that is far behind in salary to other similar districts in the Greater Cleveland/Akron area, especially along the I271/I480/I80 corridor, block scheduling is one of the only attractions to lure and retain high quality teachers. A teacher with my experience and my education in either Aurora or Hudson makes over $15,000 more per school year than I do. That is a difference of 20%, a lot of money for doing the same thing. We lose quality teachers from our district every year for this reason. If it weren’t for block scheduling, I would have left for a better paying school district ten years ago.