School district considers change to 8-period schedule

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The School District of Beloit is proposing changing the 5-block schedule at Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS) to an 8-period day for the 2015-2016 school year.

After discussion at Tuesday evening’s special board meeting, the board decided it will hold listening sessions on the issue, with an anticipated decision to be made in two weeks. Listening sessions will be held Tuesday, Jan. 20 and Monday, Jan. 26. The times will be made public soon.

At the listening sessions the public will be invited to weigh in on the BMHS schedule, get questions answered and suggest ways to help cut costs in the district.

Superintendent Steve McNeal said the proposed schedule would save money as it would reduce staff by eight to 10 positions through attrition, cutting $800,000 to $1 million from the budget. Executive Director of Business Services Janelle Marotz said the district will have to make $4.5 million in reductions from its next budget cycle, beginning in July 2015. The budget trend is projected to continue over the next several years with an average range of $3 million to $5 million in reductions each year.

In her email to parents on Monday, BMHS Principal Tina Salzman said going to an 8-period day will allow the district to continue all current programming, course offerings, athletics, extra-curricular activities as well as the Youth Options and Porter Scholar program and other programs where students can take courses outside of BMHS.

In her email Salzman said there are some advantages to the 8-period day as some courses can still be scheduled as block courses. It also prevents possible year-long gaps in student learning.

“Specifically, if a student takes a world language class in the first semester of 9th grade and does not have the second course until their second semester of their 10th grade year, it creates a substantial learning gap. This is concerning for any area that continues to build on prior learning and ongoing skill building,” she stated in her email.

The length of the school day will remain about the same with similar start and end times, as administrators are working on a number of scheduling options, which includes adding a third lunch into the school day to alleviate crowding in the lunch room.

Benefits of the new schedule would be cost savings, the opportunity to take multiple elective courses and less loss of credits for students transferring in and out of the district. Under the 8-period schedule students would take exams twice per year (at semester and the end of the year) rather than having four exam periods under the current modified 5-block schedule, which requires exams at the end of each term.

McNeal said the change of schedule wasn’t something he wanted to do, but was necessary considering the defunding of education and the sustained budget cuts that are necessary.

However, board member Shannon Scharmer said she’s heard from many community members worried about the change. The main concern is that students wouldn’t be able to take Advanced Placement or other capstone classes under the period day and they are unable to double up on classes in mathematics, foreign language, science or other classes.

For example, in the 5-block schedule she said students could complete a year-long traditional 3-credit course such as algebra, biology, Spanish, or chemistry in a block, or just one semester. Because the 8-period classes meet for half the time, it would take longer for students to complete their courses.

“With an 8-period day there are less opportunities for students to make up failures which in turn could have a negative effect on our graduation rate and eventually funding,” she said.

In order to cut costs Scharmer suggested having courses which have too few students signed up and not buying new iPads each year to replace outdated models.

“If I were to choose between an educator and an iPad, I’d prefer an educator,” she said.

In response to Scharmer’s concerns McNeal said that under the 5-block period students could obtain 35.5 credits and under the 8-period schedule they could obtain up to 32 credits. He said in 2014 the average student obtained 28.5 credits.

Board of Education President John Winkelmann said he wanted to get more information about the benefits and challenges of the proposed change and present it to the public.

During Tuesday’s meeting student board representatives Maisie Lewis and Kolten Bell also announced there will be a meeting for BMHS students after school today where students can get more information about the proposed change with McNeal and Salzman. Bell said there was a bit of a “panic” among the student body because of unanswered questions, and Lewis questioned why so much money is being spent on TVs, iPads and the fitness center if budget cuts are needed.

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