Meeting of educators and parents introduces block classes
Educators, administrators and parents of school-age children still have plenty of studying to do before Valdez City Schools – and its board of education – can move forward with a proposal to change its schedule to a four-day work week for students.
“No one’s ever done it in the State of Alaska,” Jacob Jensen, district superintendent, said to a small gathering at Valdez High School Monday night. He said the Dept. of Education will need many answers to any number of issues before the district could receive permission to try the four-day school week. And that is only in the event a skeptical school board can be convinced the proposal will be in the best interest of students.
Negotiated contracts for teachers, busing schedules and other practical hurdles will need to be addressed as well as concerns by parents. While a large number of parents – particularly those with student athletes in the family – have spoken in favor of the proposal, a number of parents of elementary-age students have publicly voiced concerns that younger children might not be able to handle a longer school day, even with an extra day off.
Jensen, the parent of a son slated to enter kindergarten next school year, said his wife was skeptical younger children would benefit by a longer school day.
“She was concerned about kindergarten,” he said.
The proposal to move to a four-day school week is primarily driven by the high rate of absenteeism on Fridays that educators say the result of student athletes – particularly in the higher grades – traveling great distances to compete in sports. The problem is widespread in Alaska according to Ruth Knight, the district’s test coordinator, who is heading the committee tasked to explore the pros and cons of a four-day school week.
When the proposal was publicized in late February, a crowd of 40 concerned parents on both sides of the fence voiced their opinions for and against the concept. Fourteen people attended Monday night’s meeting, including educators, administrators and a handful of parents.
Jensen said the calendar committee, school board and the public need to meet in a work session to discuss the issues surrounding the concept before any decisions can be made.
“What we’re looking for is near the end of April,” for such a meeting Jensen said, stressing the meeting will be to look at the possibility only, as it would be premature to make concrete decisions on the matter this early in the game.
If a four-day calendar is found to be in the best interest of students, the soonest the change could be implemented would be in the 2013/14 school year.
During Monday night’s meeting, Knight provided answers to a number of questions posed by parents from the February meeting, and also introduced the block schedule concept for the upper grades. The block schedule – in its rough form – would feature eight classes total for upper grades, compared with the current schedule of seven classes. The difference would be that students would attend only four classes per day with a length of 90 to 110 minutes, depending on the model. Students would then attend only four classes per day under a rotating system. For example, a student might be scheduled to attend English, math, science, and PE for one day, then attend classes for history, social studies, art and culinary arts the next.
The meeting drew no conclusions but did bring more information to the table. The presentation from Monday’s meeting is available on the district’s website. School administrators said they are encouraging parents to read the information.
“We still have more work to do,” Knight said.