Opening a block of time

Corunna High School Principal Barry Thomas, right, speaks to parents regarding a proposed schedule change Monday inside the high school cafeteria.

CORUNNA — As a way of increasing scheduling flexibility and course offerings for Corunna High School students, officials are proposing the building transition from a four-period “block” schedule to a seven-period school day.

The proposed scheduling change and its perceived benefits were disclosed to parents via two informal meetings led by Corunna High School Principal Barry Thomas. The second meeting took place Monday night inside the high school’s cafeteria.

With support from the District Curriculum Committee, Thomas will recommend the scheduling change to the Corunna Public Schools Board of Education during its next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Feb. 24 inside the high school media center. If approved, the seven-period schedule would go into effect for the 2020-21 academic year.

“There are no schools in any surrounding counties on the block. I couldn’t find any schools in the state that are public schools that are actually on the 4-by-4 block,” Thomas said Monday. “It’s just not fiscally possible any more with all of the cuts that we’ve had over the years, to be able to pay and maintain the staff you would need to stay on the 4-by-4 block, to do it the right way for kids.”

Area schools on a seven-period day include Owosso, Byron and Morrice. Durand, Laingsburg, New Lothrop and Perry all offer six periods.

Corunna High School transitioned from a six-period school day to the block schedule in 2004, according to Superintendent John Fattal, in an effort to ensure students had access to Career and Technical Education (CTE) Programs.

“The state changed the graduation requirements at the time, and in our community we believe very highly in the CTE programs — FFA, shop classes, construction trades,” Fattal said. “We knew that a six-period day was going to eliminate one of our programs that’s a mainstay for our community, so at that time the block was the way to go.

“Times have changed,” Fattal continued. “The state has lessened some of the requirements for graduation, they’ve given more local control, so a seven-period day is a better fit (now).”

Under the current block schedule, high school students attend four 88-minute periods per school day on a two-semester schedule.

Since the implementation of the schedule, Corunna High School has cut 12 staff members, according to Thomas, which has made it difficult for the school to offer an adequate number of courses each semester, with students often going a semester (half of the school year) or more without a math class, for example.

The schedule has also proven to be difficult for students cognitively, Thomas said, as what would traditionally be a year’s worth of material on a seven-period schedule is crammed into one semester, and with fewer staff, students who need to retake particular courses are having a difficult time fitting it into their schedule.

With the proposed seven-period class schedule, individual class periods would be 50 to 54 minutes in length, according to Thomas, would offer students more flexibility, a larger variety of course, and would not require additional staff.

In a survey distributed to high school staff members, approximately 85 percent expressed support for transitioning to a seven-period school day, according to Thomas.

“We will actually be able to offer more electives because teachers aren’t locked into four blocks of time during the day, they have seven blocks of time during the day,” Thomas said, “and we’ll actually be able to offer advanced placement (AP) courses the way AP should be offered, because AP is a year-long stretch of time to get you ready for those AP exams that happen in April.”

During the question-and-answer portion of Monday’s meeting, many parents expressed concerns regarding how the implementation of additional classes would impact students in terms of the amount of homework they receive each night, as well as how it would affect their overall mental health.

Operations Principal Paul Brieger assured the roughly 30 parents in attendance that if the schedule change is approved by the board of education, high school staff members will do their very best to create a smooth transition.

“One thing I am not in favor of is trying to increase our students’ anxiety level,” Brieger said. “I have some upcoming high school students in the next couple of years and to go from four classes to seven can create some anxiety, but we’re going to work with the teachers on that transition for that by offering more electives. I’m not about trying to inundate kids with homework every single night because I want kids involved in extracurricular activities. I do not want kids up until 9 p.m. doing homework. We’re going to work through that process.”

Lynn Ingram, a school bus driver and mother of children in the district, noted her mixed feelings when the high school transitioned to the block schedule years ago.

“I remember sitting here 12 years ago thinking, ‘Awesome, my kid (a 2013 CHS graduate) will have eight classes a school year instead of seven like I had, he’ll get extra opportunities to get extra credits,’” Ingram said. “As the years went by, staff numbers went down, opportunities to repeat classes went away. My daughter, who’s going to be a senior in the fall, needs to repeat a class. They haven’t been able to get it in her schedule.”

Despite apprehension that comes with change, Ingram said she believes a seven-period schedule will be the best for students moving forward.

“I’m excited by the change, I really am,” Ingram said. “I think it’s going to give our kids more opportunities to explore some different things that they previously couldn’t on the block schedule.”

Thomas said it’s about expanding opportunities for students.

“Hopefully the big piece is that you get kids exposed to more things so that they can see stuff that they like to do,” Thomas said. “The other great thing about having more opportunities is you (might) have a natural aptitude for something, you’re really good at this, and you might not have ever even known that had you not been offered that opportunity to take the class. Just being able to take it and experience it is big.”

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