by LAURA HAYES
After the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) Board voted to adopt a seven-period schedule at Winona Senior High School (WSHS) next school year, the board voted in December to instead wait and implement a new schedule in the 2018-2019 school year.
“Some people were under the impression that we acted very hastily on our vote at the [November 17] meeting on the seven-period day. We acted on the best information that we had at the time,” WAPS Board Chair Ben Baratto said.
Throughout the last school year, School Board members have discussed potentially changing WSHS’ current schedule — a hybrid schedule of three “skinny” 50-minute periods and two “block” 90-minute periods that is used by only one other school in the state. In November, WSHS Principal Mark Anderson and several teachers on a committee discussing the schedule brought the board three potential schedules: a two-semester schedule with seven-period days, a clock schedule where students would rotate between eight 85-90 minute classes every other day, or the current schedule. Anderson and the teachers asked the board wait to adopt a new schedule until the 2018-2019 school year to allow teachers to visit other schools with the schedules that they were considering.
In late November, the board unanimously voted to adopt a seven-period school day starting in the 2017-2018 school year. Board member Steve Schild was absent.
In December, Baratto said that the board was acting under a timeline given to the School Board by former WSHS principal Ryan Jensen, which said that during the first couple months of the 2016-2017 school year, a scheduling committee would meet to discuss problems with the current hybrid schedule. A vote on a new schedule, Baratto read from the timeline, would take place in November — December at the latest.
During the board meeting, Anderson said that the committee asked the board to let it take the 2017-2018 school year to prepare classes and curriculum to be changed to a seven-period day. Baratto said that he and two other board members met with the scheduling committee, who told the board about some of the issues they were currently working through to transition classes into the new schedule. He said, for example, a student may be enrolled in a three-credit class that would only actually give them two credits under a seven-period day. “That might jeopardize their graduation,” Baratto explained.
Board member Jay Kohner read a statement by WSHS English teacher Laura Armstrong, who could not attend the meeting but advocated against the seven-period schedule. Armstrong said that a seven-period would place a great deal of stress on students, “especially since we were told there would be no study hall for them,” and stress on teachers, who she said will have more students to teach and six periods for which to prep.
“I think that’s why they’re asking for more time so that they can study all of these issues,” Baratto stated. If the board did want to pursue a seven-period schedule, then the committee would have time to make the necessary adjustments, he added.
Schild said that there was information that the School Board didn’t have at the time of the vote. “That does call into question the efficacy of implementing that schedule next year,” he said.
Last year, Jensen told the board several times that there were problems with the current hybrid schedule — students had difficulty getting into classes that they wanted and some ran into problems when they didn’t register for enough “block" classes.
“The scheduling business is a little like whack-a-mole,” Schild said. “There will be shortcomings in everything. We’re fooling ourselves if we’re trying to convince ourselves that one schedule will address every concern.”
Board member Jeanne Nelson expressed interest in pursuing the seven-period day over the other schedule options. “We’re looking for things that will best help our student population and will hopefully work for improving [student achievement] outcomes,” she said. A seven-period day, she explained, would allow room for students to take elective classes and length-wise isn’t different from the current “skinny” classes.
Former board member Brian Zeller, who was in office at the time of the meeting, advocated for adopting the seven-period day. “I think short-changing our students to say that they can’t handle that is not the right statement,” he said. Zeller said that a majority of schools in both Minnesota and the United States had a seven- or eight-period school day. “I think our students can handle that. I think our teachers can handle that,” he said.
The School Board voted 6-1 to give the committee additional time with Nelson voting against the delay.