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Board mulls block schedule

By Bryan Richardson

Members of the USD 383 school board Wednesday discussed their upcoming decision on the schedule at Manhattan high School, focusing on a proposed seven hour modified block schedule that includes a late start day.

That is one of three options under consideration, the others being staying with the current schedule or changing to a six plus zero hour schedule with a late start day. Karen Curtin, MHS social studies department chair and a member of a high school committee that studied the proposals, admitted that last option almost didn’t make the cut.

“At the end, we really don’t think that is what’s best for students,” she said. Curtin mentioned economic efficiencies as the primary reason for including the option for the board’s consideration.

A six plus zero hour schedule could see a 10 to 16 percent staff reduction (11-18 teachers) and a cost reduction of $506,000 to $828,000 based on a beginning teacher’s salary with benefits of $46,000.

MHS actually had a six plus zero hour schedule from 1997 to 1999 when the graduation requirement was 21 credits. The current seven-hour schedule began in 1999; 24 credits are now required for graduation.

Some board members expressed concern about the decrease in instructional time with the modified block schedule. There are about 39 fewer hours of instructional time in the school year with the modified block compared to the current schedule.

Mary Kris Roberson, MHS English department co-chair, said it’s better to look at the quality obtained through a 90-minute block period. She said it provides a chance for deeper discussions and activities.

“Seat time does not necessarily equal quality instruction,” she said. “What we want to do is promote quality instruction in our school.”

Surveys of 88 teachers and 45 students each had maintaining the current schedule as the top choice with 63.6 percent and 52.3 percent of the votes, respectively.

The next popular choice for teachers and students was the modified block schedule at 28.4 percent and 31.8 percent, respectively.

The current schedule remained the top option, the general belief being that it is working well.

Board member Beth Tatarko questioned whether there was a need to change the schedule at all. “’How do we know it’s not broken?’ would be one question I would have,” she said.

Tatarko called it a “win-win” as far as making a decision on the current schedule or the modified block.

Prompted by board president Dave Colburn’s question, Jane Kenyon, MHS English department co-chair, said the high school seemed like the appropriate place to start a college-like schedule of not going to every class daily.

“I personally think that the majority of high school students are ready for a varied schedule,” she said.

Carol Adams, executive director of teaching and learning, said there are multiple reasons for wanting to keep things the same. She said those include comfort level and the recognition that there’s more planning time and instructional time with the current schedule. In the current schedule, there are 260 minutes of planning time a week rather than 243 minutes in the modified block.

However, teachers can’t always utilize that time because of other obligations, task force members said.

They mentioned the modified block’s 90 minutes of collaboration time every other Wednesday during a late start as a positive.

The elementary schedule task force will present its report at the next school board meeting Dec. 19. Both topics will undergo further discussion in January.

Early release

The board also finalized its senior early release decision by a 5-2 margin with Pesaresi and Paukstelis dissenting due to a desire to end the practice.

The vote maintains the current policy but does require a definition of college and career readiness that can be used when students seek to graduate early or utilize senior early release. That definition would be used starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Current policy dictates seniors only need to be on track for graduation and have parental approval to be eligible. During the second semester, MHS seniors have the option of not taking one or two periods provided they are enrolled in five consecutive classes.


MHS East analysis

The board unanimously approved beginning the process of finding a firm to conduct an MHS East facility analysis.

The analysis is being requested because the board removed many potential elements of the renovation process in order to reduce the cost of the eventual $97.5 million bond issue. The analysis will include a cost-benefit evaluation for the facility’s life expectancy, and the comparison of new construction to the cost of maintaining the facility for the next 20 years.

The remaining issues include substantial amounts of asbestos remaining in the building, drainage around the building, the building’s first floor and foundation, and the HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems.

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