State College

State College Area school board weighs block schedule options

State College Area High School Principal Scott DeShong gave an update about the block schedule proposal at a board meeting Monday night that could go into effect in the fall.

It’s a recommendation the district is positive about, but received mixed reviews from board members and committee members who help oversee the schedule.

The block schedule would include a rotation of two, four-period days. Each block would be 90 minutes, and each day would include a 30 minute lunch.

The school currently works on an eight-period day at 47 minutes each. But only two-thirds of students have a lunch break, DeShong said.

In the current schedule, a specified lunch break is not built in to some students schedules. Some students take an extra class in place of a lunch or have other options, DeShong said.

“That’s not to say students don’t eat,” he added.

A 16-member committee headed by DeShong was formed last year to oversee the recommended schedule. It was composed of students, parents, faculty and staff who solicited feedback from their peers.

After reviewing feedback and several schedule scenarios, the block schedule was recommended, and was originally suggested to rollout in the fall of 2016, said Superintendent Bob O’Donnell.

But the “game changer” to bump the schedule by a year came with construction of the new high school facility that is scheduled to start in July, DeShong said.

He said that under the proposed block schedule, students would have fewer transition times between classes and buildings.

The board applauded the committee for their quick turnaround with providing information on the recommendation, but some concerns were addressed.

Board President Amber Concepcion said she’s worried that, with a changing schedule each week, it could put a damper on students who try to schedule work, take Penn State classes or are involved in extracurricular activities.

Board Vice President Jim Leous and member Penni Fishbaine each suggested that the committee should re-survey students and teachers after a few months under the recommended schedule, and then re-examine the schedule again after construction is completed.

The decision to switch schedules for next year, however, is not in the hands of the board, but O’Donnell said the committee would keep the board updated on changes.

The next update to the board will come on Jan. 26.

High school science coordinator Tod McPherson said there are “significant hurdles” to overcome.

He said that science lab classes will lose 114 minutes of instruction time a year.

“We’ll lose that time, but have to do something creatively to make that up,” McPherson said. “Many teachers are concerned about the loss of curriculum.”

Student board representative Reilly Ebbs, a senior, said some students "freaked out" when they heard about the recommended schedule, but said she is encouraging the underclassmen to be open-minded.

“I’m telling them they won’t be cramming in another four classes into a day,” she said. “They would probably be just as upset if we were already on blocks and transitioning into periods instead. Change is hard, but it’s something they’ll get used to.”

DeShong said the ultimate goal is to educate students the best way the district thinks is possible.

“How can we help our students be more efficient in their time during the day?” DeShong said. “When all that comes together we’ll have positive student growth.”

Teachers are also working on professional development strategies on ways to fill the time, adapt to time constraints and work on appropriate curriculum.

DeShong said there is no deadline when the decision would be made on the proposed block schedule, but thinks it will happen in a “timely manner.”

Students will begin to schedule next year’s classes in February.