Planned schedule changes at local high schools is drawing the ire of outspoken parents and students.
At the Dec. 12 Issaquah School Board meeting, the board voted to approve Superintendent Ron Thiele’s recommendation to the board to implement a universal high school schedule for Issaquah High School (IHS), Skyline High School (SHS), Liberty High School (LHS) and the upcoming fourth comprehensive high school slated to open in the fall of 2022.
The new “Seven Period Modified Block Schedule with Flex Time Option” will move IHS and SHS away from their six-period class schedule by the fall of 2019. LHS will move away from its eight-period class schedule no later than the fall of 2022 in conjunction with the opening of the district’s fourth comprehensive high school.
The approved new high school schedule will hold all seven periods on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, with each class running 50 minutes. Tuesdays will hold first, third, fifth and seventh periods with a 35-minute flex time. Wednesdays will hold second, fourth and sixth periods with a 50-minute flex time. Below is the complete approved “Modified Block 7 Period Schedule with Flex Time Option.”
In February of 2018, voters approve the district’s programs and operations Levy, allowing the district to pursue opportunities for high school students within a new high school schedule. In Thiele’s recommendation to the board on Dec. 12, he explained the traditional six period schedule — offering 24 credit opportunities over four years — leaves little room for acceleration, exploration or remediation. He said he felt compelled to enlist a high school scheduling committee comprised of teachers, administrators, parents from all three comprehensive high schools and representatives of the Issaquah Education Association (IEA) to participate.
“I directed the high school scheduling committee to investigate and research high school schedule options, and to make a recommendation to me for a high school schedule that met the goals of the charter,” he said in his recommendation.
The high school scheduling committee, included IHS principal Andrea McCormick, LHS principal Sean Martin, SHS assistant principal Alicia Mitchell, IHS counselor Jen Martinson, LHS English teacher Henry Level, SHS math teacher Ami Williams, IEA representative and IHS parent representative Stacy Heller, LHS parent representative Mitzi Widdows and SHS parent representative Shawna Borichewski. All were appointed by Thiele.
The committee held its first meeting in June and has met five times. Community input meetings were held on Oct. 15 and 25, for community members to provide input about values and priorities for a high school schedule in an informal and conversational setting. The final committee recommendation and report was provided to the Thiele after the last high school scheduling committee on Nov. 13.
According to Thiele’s rationale, the new class schedule will “meet the pre-established criteria of providing students with additional opportunities for exploration, enrichment and remediation in era of Core 24 Graduation Requirements. (The new schedule) will strike a balance between contact time per course with opportunities for students and provide for four teacher/student contacts per week while still offering an extended class period once per week, as well as supporting the good work and recommendation of the high school scheduling committee.”
Students, parents and community members gathered at the Dec. 12 school board meeting to voice their opinions of the schedule change. The majority of parents and students from the LHS community said they were unhappy with the new schedule changes.
Allison Flash, a parent to two LHS graduates and one current LHS student, said the new schedule will serve more as a hindrance to students rather than an advantage. She believes the LHS class schedule should stay the same, or the other high schools should adopt the LHS eight-period schedule.
According to the eight-period schedule, each school day alternates between an “A” day and a “B” day. “A” days hold periods one through four, for 90 minutes each. “B” days hold periods five through eight, also for 90 minutes each. For Wednesdays, regardless of it being an “A” day or a “B” day, periods run about 70 minutes each. One advantage is the schedule allows students more time to complete homework on a daily basis, as they only have four classes a day.
Students can take as many as 32 credits thus providing them more opportunities to take electives and explore their interests.
“Liberty’s eight period class schedule offers so much to its students,” she said. “My kids were able to take the classes they really wanted outside of the required classes. My son was able to take four years of choir as well as take two years of AP stats…The new schedule reduce the number of extracurricular classes, and it’s those kinds of classes that make these kids whole.”
Jake Hopkins, an LHS senior said although the new schedule changes won’t affect him personally, he remains a strong advocate for keeping the eight period schedule for underclassmen and incoming students.
“The new schedule will have us lose opportunities to take classes. If I look back, I can’t think of four classes that I wished I hadn’t taken — if anything there’s still classes I wished I could have taken but wasn’t able to,” he said.
More class opportunities isn’t the only thing LHS students like. According to Faith Maggard, an LHS sophomore, the eight period schedule helps students who have to work jobs.
“I personally have to support one of my family members, and it’s really unfortunate that I have to do that as a high school student,” she told the school board. “I have a job after school, I work on the weekends, and having those separated days for classes really helps me because I don’t have a large homework load every night. I fear with the modified schedule and having seven periods one day and then four the next is just too complicated.”
Hopkins said many students prefer the eight-period schedule because of the longer class periods.
“A lot of us really appreciate the longer class periods because it gives us more time to go deeper into a subject. When you only spend 45-50 minutes in class, even if it’s more than twice a week, you can’t really get into the depth of a subject,” Hopkins said. “The longer class periods are so great when it comes to science labs and class discussions because more time is spent on the actual lesson than the time that it takes to unpack your stuff, settle in and then pack up your stuff before you leave.”
More than anything, many of the students from the three high schools wish that they were a part of the planning and discussion.
“I think we can all recognize the new schedule isn’t completely terrible—it’s not good or perfect by any means, but it’s not the worst,” Hopkins said. “I just wish that they had student representatives on the scheduling committee, as this change will effect us students directly. I think we should’ve had more of a voice in the discussion.”
The primary reason for the delay to implement the new class schedule in LHS is that it will provide ISD time to work with LHS staff and the community to develop a transition plan.
The delay will allow current LHS students who built their high school plan around 32 credit opportunities to complete their plan and will allow incoming LHS students to plan their high school four-year plan based on the new schedule.
However, during the Dec. 12 board meeting, Thiele said LHS may be able to transition to the new schedule before 2022, based on the results of the seven-period Modified Block Schedule at LHS and SHS.
Marnie Maraldo, an ISD school board member asked Thiele if he would be willing to change the vocabulary from “no later than” to “no sooner than,” thus giving LHS a secured amount of time to transition to the new schedule. Thiele acknowledged the suggestion but declined the change.
While Thiele acknowledged the LHS eight-period schedule has several positives and has had an impact on his thinking of the importance of extended periods, he said he still has concerns over the LHS schedule’s “fewer weekly contact opportunities, less overall contact time, and students carrying an eight-class case load.”
The new schedule change will not only have an impact on students but teachers as well. Switching to the the Seven-Period Modified Block Schedule With Flex Time Option will create more equity to the prep time and caseloads across the high school staffs. The increased prep time should enhance the feedback teachers provide to students and reduce the time needed to get student work back to students. The use of the flex time will allow time for regularly scheduled interruptions (assemblies, drills, surveys) thus not impacting instructional time or impacting instructional time equally.
According to the Issaquah Education Association (IEA) president Gary Arthur, ISD high school teachers want to have their workload commensurate to other high school teachers.
The teachers also have a strong interest in students having equitable opportunities, Arthur said. He said the majority of ISD high school teachers want to see all ISD students have the same access to the same classes instead of a separation.
Thiele believes there are some overall benefits to all ISD students if the high schools are on a common schedule.
“These benefits include greater ease aligning professional development and curriculum implementation, and greater potential for sharing of itinerant staff. This could become even more important in a future with two smaller high schools of approximately 1,200 to 1,400 students,” he said.
Parents and students in favor of keeping the eight period schedule say they will continue to oppose the new schedule changes. No proposed action from the community has been announced.
Overall, the board and the majority of ISD teachers are in favor of the new schedule and implementing them in all three high schools.
“Through my experiences and learning related to high school schedules, I have come to the conclusion that the modified block seven-period schedule as recommended is the best option for all students in our current Core 24 system. Given this belief extends to all students and future students of the ISD I am compelled to include LHS in my recommendation,” Thiele said.