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Final Bell for Liberty’s Block Schedule?

In response to a new district levy granting the Issaquah School District an extra 40 million dollars a year, a high school scheduling committee was chartered in February 2018. The committee aims to place Issaquah, Skyline, and Liberty High School on a common schedule while simultaneously adding at least one period to the six period school days of Issaquah and Skyline.

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Update December 12, 11:00 PM: The school board has voted to approve the superintendent’s recommendation to move IHS and SHS to 7 period hybrid schedules beginning in fall 2019, and to move Liberty to the 7 period hybrid schedule no later than fall 2022 to coincide with the opening of the fourth district high school.

Update November 21, 1:00 PM: On November 13th, the high school schedule committee voted  8 to 1, with the 10th vote for two options, to recommend the 7 period hybrid schedule to the superintendent. The final recommendation was published today here.

 

He’d been raving about it for years. Alongside lectures about stoichiometry and lessons on quantum mechanics was the old refrain: Liberty needs a seven period hybrid schedule. So now, when the proposed schedule change from our current eight period block seems as likely as it’s ever been, why did Liberty science teacher Mark Buchli ask, “Wouldn’t it be great if we all went to an eight period schedule?”

But he’s not contradicting himself. The issue of a schedule change involves so many different factors that no stance is completely solid. Only by considering every viewpoint, however, can students, teachers, and district officials alike make an informed decision about whether or not the change is necessary. And even then, as Buchli has expressed, it’s still a hard call.

 

ORIGINS

How did this whole schedule change idea first come about?

“It is clearly motivated by Core 24, which is a state initiative that requires students to earn 24 credits to graduate,” English teacher Henry Level, the Liberty staff representative on the schedule change committee, said. “At Liberty, that doesn’t sound so hard, but at the other schools with six period schedules, that leaves no room for failing courses.”

Josh Almy, Issaquah School District Deputy Superintendent and fellow committee member, agrees.

“Issaquah and Skyline High School are two of the last high schools in King County still on a six period day,” he said. “There is very little opportunity to take other classes and try to find things that you’re interested in.”

Besides just the limited opportunity to take and, if necessary, retake courses for kids at Issaquah and Skyline, the current system is also unfair for teachers. Because teachers across the district receive the same pay, it makes sense they should have the same workload as well.

“So it’s about equity—it’s hard for the district to justify why a teacher at Liberty gets 90 minutes of prep each day when teachers at the other schools get 55 minutes,” said Level.

This is what Buchli, who represents district teachers in the scheduling committee through the Issaquah Education Association, meant when he praised the Liberty’s current schedule.

“From a teacher’s perspective, the eight period schedule is the cat’s meow,” Buchli said. “Why? Because I get all this prep time. But I look at my colleagues at Issaquah and Skyline, and I say ‘that’s not right!’

“And I’m also worried about [students] ,” he continued, “because they’ll compete against very smart people, who have had a better education because they practiced more and more often.” This idea of contact time is a critical component teachers are considering in favor of a new schedule with less periods.

 

PERSPECTIVES…

AS TEACHERS

While Liberty teachers will have less prep time on a seven period schedule, students gain more time and frequency of interaction with teachers. Buchli strongly believes that this leads to student success.

“You want to get good at riding a bike, you want to get good at tennis, you have to practice frequently,” Buchli said. “When you have to sit down and take an AP exam, and the Issaquah and Skyline kids have that much more contact time than you, guess what—they’re beating you in AP scores.”

His data backs him up. Per course, per year, Issaquah kids receive 147 hours of instructional time on a six period schedule, while Liberty receives only 128 on an eight period schedule. According to U.S. News and World Report, Issaquah’s AP participant pass rate stands at 92 percent, while Liberty’s is at only 79 percent. This achievement gap very likely involves factors besides just a difference in schedules, but it’s large enough to cause concern over whether or not scheduling is a factor.

So, the seven period schedule seems to be a good compromise between the two different schedules and dynamics. “It offers three elective periods while maintaining the frequency and the contact time that our eight period schedule lacks,” said Level.

But not all Liberty teachers are convinced. “If it was up to me, we won’t change something that isn’t broken,” math teacher Thomas Kennedy said. “I think that what we have here works pretty well, and I don’t understand why there is a constant pressure from the district to try to break it. I’m on team eight period.”

 

AS STUDENTS

For the most part, Liberty students, both current and former, and their families agree with Kennedy. In a survey of over 900 community members, 76.25 percent believe that the current eight period schedule would provide the optimal learning environment, while only 2.24 percent side with the seven period hybrid.

Perhaps the most worrisome consequence of the proposed schedule change is the reduction of electives, which concerned 94.81 percent of those surveyed. In the process of moving to a seven period schedule, all Liberty students will have to choose to give up one cherished elective.

Besides the loss of an opportunity for each student to learn something new, this may lead to a decrease in opportunities for the school as a whole. Why?

Essentially, removing one elective class takes 1,400 students, the school population, out of each elective class’ pool of potential students. If specific classes do not have enough students signed up to run effectively, it is very likely that the administration will choose to discontinue the course.

For electives such as ROTC, this deems to be a big problem. In order to receive funding from the U.S. Navy, each school must have at least 100 cadets. Currently, the Patriot Company has 101.

Liberty’s NJROTC unit Commanding Officer, senior Chandler Alexander, understands the seriousness of the situation. “With the seven period schedule, all of our cadets will have to make the choice of whether they want to do ROTC, or whether they want to do, for example, metal fabrication, woods, or drama instead,” Alexander said. “If that’s the case, then we could possibly lose our program.”

Besides in-school electives, other programs will also be negatively affected. Every A day, instead of attending fourth period, sophomores Allyson Mangus and Ty Mellish hop on a bus to Issaquah High School. They’re both part of the Evergreen Philharmonic Orchestra, a district-wide, audition-only orchestra, which practices during Issaquah High’s last period of the day.

“Because of the eight period schedule, we have time to take a bus over to Issaquah to get to class every other day,” Mangus explained. “If we had the seven period schedule, we wouldn’t be able to go to Evergreen, because we would miss class.”

While Almy stresses that the district will work with programs like Evergreen to ensure that sharing students isn’t an issue, Mellish and Mangus have not yet heard of any possible solution. “It would definitely not be as easy and efficient as it is now,” Mellish said.

93.21 percent of community members surveyed are also concerned that shifting to a seven period hybrid schedule would increase emotional stress and pressure on students. In an effort to emphasize this point as well as advocate for the Patriot Company, Alexander gave a speech to the district scheduling committee on October 24. There, he explained how he had moved to Liberty from a school operating under a six period schedule, not unlike those of Issaquah and Skyline.

“I came from the Lake Washington school district, personally looking forward to the eight period schedule,” Alexander said. “The six period schedule caused a lot of stress for students, and you’d bring home at least two hours of homework per class each night. There was not enough time during class to get the lesson done and do your assignments.”

On a seven period schedule without a hybrid block, which is another option the district is currently considering, students would have even less time in each class per day. Senior Christian Dayton, who previously attended Hazen High School on seven periods, personally experienced this.

“It was really jam-packed; each class just flew by,” Dayton said. “By the time the teacher was done speaking, you would have only twenty minutes left in class to work. It was a mess.”

In contrast, the eighth period has allowed him to take a step back from rushing from class to class.

“It’s helped me focus on my academics, because it’s given me a longer amount of time in each class,” Dayton explained.

But he isn’t convinced by the seven period schedule with a hybrid component either, which would give more time to students overall. “I think it would throw off your week,” he said. “I like having the same routine, the same amount of time per class.”

 

AS A PATRIOT COMMUNITY

With a seemingly inexhaustible list of factors, perspectives, and ideas to consider, the scheduling committee has an enormous job ahead. But Level is staying optimistic, and he encourages the Patriot community—teachers, students, families, and alumni—to do the same.

“Although it’s impossible to pick one schedule that is everyone’s favorite, I’m glad to see that there are many good options on the table,” Level said. “Ultimately, I don’t know what we’ll end up with, but I’m not worried.”

Unfortunately, it seems that many community members are concerned. Buchli believes that this is a issue of mindset.

“Liberty identifies itself with the eight period day,” he said. “But we’re more than that.”

He’s right. Patriot Pride advocates equality, generosity, and community spirit. If this means having to adapt to a new schedule for the sake of the common good, which is no doubt the highest priority of the scheduling committee, then that is what we should do.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll be able to keep our current schedule, or maybe we’ll find something even better to love in a new one.

“It doesn’t matter what schedule you give me,” Buchli said, evoking the kind of passion normally saved only for praising South Dakota or a really, really low percent error. “I’m not a Patriot because of eight periods. I’m a Patriot because of our beliefs, our culture, and who we are. I care about my fellow teachers; I care about my students.

“That, to me, is what being a Patriot means.”

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Final Bell for Liberty’s Block Schedule?