Block scheduling could be coming to NHS

Naugatuck High School Principal Janice Saam is considering switching to block scheduling, which would mean fewer, but longer classes each day.

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck High School students may have longer classes in the future.

A new teacher contract awaiting approval from the Board of Mayor and Burgesses would allow a switch to block scheduling.

Even though the teacher’s contract now allows for 80 minute class times, it’s not a switch

Principal Janice Saam will make unilaterally.

“I’m not just going to jump into without being planful about it,” Saam said.

In the coming weeks, a group of Naugatuck teachers will visit other schools running on a block schedule to observe how it works, according to Saam. She said she wants teachers to do whatever they need to do to feel like they’ve gotten all their concerns answered.

She said Naugatuck may make the switch next year or it could come several years down the road.

“I don’t want people to get nervous. I want it to be thoughtful and I want people to feel okay about it. I want people to know that I’m willing to listen to their concerns and we’ll talk about it,” Saam said.

The move could help the high school meet new state requirements for graduation. Over the next few years, the school will be phasing in extra credit requirements to move from the current 22 credits to 25 credits for 2014.

“I think it will help a little bit in terms of kids will be able to accumulate a few more credits that way,” said Superintendent of Schools John Tindall-Gibson.

Block scheduling would allow students to take eight credits a year without having to forfeit lunch, as they do now, according to Saam.

She said she first brought up the idea three years ago, when students were still on a seven-period a day schedule.

Saam said the seven-period schedule didn’t meet the needs of students and didn’t allow teachers to have common planning time. A committee of teachers visited other schools and decided that a first transitional step would be to move to an eight period day, allowing students to take eight credits a year and give them more flexibility in the schedule. With eight periods, all the teachers in each department have the same period off to share information and work on their curriculum.

There are different ways to implement block scheduling, but Saam said the model she likes the most is an A-B schedule, which allows four classes one day and the other four the next, so students would still take all eight credits all year long.

Under that model, teachers would teach the same number of classes as they do now, but instead of teaching the same classes every day, they would teach two classes on one day, and three on the next. Over the course of a week, Saam said teachers would have more time to get together as professionals and discuss teaching and learning.

“I don’t think we give teachers enough time to do that,” Saam said.

Students could still opt to use one of those periods as a study hall. With the loss of 16 teachers over the last two years, Saam said the school doesn’t have enough teachers to teach all students taking all classes, and block scheduling would make it easier for students to take courses with labs, like chemistry and biology.

Currently, classes requiring labs have double periods, but may only have lab two or three days a week. On the days they don’t have labs, students can’t take another course, or they’re forced to take a study period.

“If you ran on block, students wouldn’t be shut out of a period,” Saam said.

Saam said some subjects, like science, art, and music, would welcome the longer classes while other subject areas, such as math, have legitimate concerns over how they will hold students’ attention for longer periods.

Saam said she spoke with teachers in other high schools with block scheduling who really liked it, but some Naugatuck teachers have concerns about how they will teach with longer classes and how students will adjust.

In addition, Saam said block scheduling might make it easier to schedule classes during the high school renovation because not every class would meet every day. With only four periods a day, Saam wouldn’t have to find as many classrooms to move people around to throughout the course of the day.