Sunday, March 13, 2016

Schedule Advisory Committee holds community forum at Benicia High School

(Originally published in the 3/13/16 edition)

    Benicia High School’s Schedule Advisory Committee hosted a community forum Thursday to address questions and concerns about a new schedule that would be implemented in the 2017-2018 school year.
   The Schedule Advisory Committee was created in November, 2015 when Charles Young, superintendent of Benicia Unified School District, was looking to satisfy a goal from the previous Western Association of Schools and Colleges visit. 
   “When I was hired as superintendent, one of the things I noticed in going through documents was that there was a WASC goal in taking a look at schedules and seeing what we can do to increase staff collaboration and meet student needs better,” Young told the audience. “That’s why we put this committee together.”
   The committee- which is comprised of two administrators, six teachers, four students and six parents- looks at data and receives community input to determine which schedules would help decrease stress and anxiety related to the school’s current schedule, best provides opportunities for personalized student support and allows teachers to have dedicated time to collaborate and develop professionally. 
   Currently, Benicia High has a non-rotating six period schedule that runs from 8 a.m. to 3:05 p.m. with the option for students to take an additional early bird class at 7 a.m. Possible changes to the schedule would include a later start time or a rotating block schedule, but English teacher and committee member Morgan Hill noted the committee will not be making a decision on which type of schedule to use and could only make recommendations. 
   “Hopefully after this community forum, we’ll take into consideration everything that you guys have said and take that with us as we move into that decision toward a recommendation process,” she said. 
   To give community members an idea into the complex process that goes into developing a new schedule, a presentation was given by Eric Mapes, the assistant principal of Piedmont High School and Millennium High School in Piedmont. From 1996 to 2014, the school used a 7-day rotating schedule.
   “It was actually a pilot,” Mapes said. “The teachers said it would only be used for one year, and it lasted for 17 years.” 
   The schedule also included staff collaboration days where staff met every seven days and tutorial days where students could go into the office and get help for an hour. Both meetings were scheduled for the end of the day, and there were only 19 staff collaboration and tutorial days each year, which Mapes noted did not allow for much time for students and teachers to connect. 
   A recommendation committee was formed in October 2013 following a site council meeting in September where parents asked about extracurricular activities and sleep. The committee consisted of administrators, certificated and classified staff and an Association of Piedmont Teachers executive board member but not parents or students. The goals included increasing tutorial time and teacher collaboration, providing student support opportunities and protecting their sleep schedules. 
   In the 2014-2015 school year, Piedmont High adopted an alternating 5-day bell schedule where the classes met in 90-minute blocks on rotating days with tutorial and staff collaborations moved toward the beginning of the day and a mandatory tutorial day once a month. However, Mapes noted that people found Mondays to be too long, passing periods too short and students disliked the mandatory tutorials. In 2015-2016, the school adopted a new schedule where the end of Tuesdays through Fridays were increased by five minutes.
   “Students say they’re coming to school more refreshed and connect better with teachers,” Mapes said. 
   Ken Yale, the committee’s facilitator and a founding principal of Millennium High School when it underwent its first schedule change in 1996, said the group was not advocating for a particular type of schedule.
   “If you ask national experts, they will tell you there is no such thing as a perfect schedule,” he said. “A schedule works to the extent that it reflects what the particular outcomes are. Schools have different values and different demographics.”
   English teacher and committee member Kim Thompson said that while there is not enough quantitative data to determine if schedule changes have made major improvements, schools have benefited from them.
   “When they revisited schools that had made the shift and asked them how people are feeling about the shift, none of the schools would go back to their old schedule and all reported being happier and feeling less stressed from students and teachers across the board,” she said. 
   The committee will prepare a written report in April and present a recommendation to the Governing Board in May. For more information, email


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