No block scheduling next year

Seth Jovaag

Verona Area High School won’t switch to block scheduling next year, after all.

After a year-and-a-half of discussions, school officials in late January proposed doing away with the traditional schedule of seven, 50-minute periods a day in the 2013-14 school year. Instead, classes lasting up to 90 minutes would be held on alternating days.

But last week, a leadership committee at the school voted to postpone the change – likely for one year – due to concerns about how one every-other-day 90-minute period – dubbed “all school resource” –  would be implemented, said associate principal Brian Boehm.

In theory, the resource period would offer teachers 45 minutes to collaborate with their peers, then set aside another 45 minutes for them to meet with students who need help on projects or assignments.

Concerns arose that if too many students approached one teacher for help, the teacher might not be able to get to them all, which would defeat the rationale behind the extra period.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t sort of ‘overselling’ that, and that it was going to deliver what we want it to,” Boehm said. “We felt we needed more time … to get it like we wanted it.”

The change to block scheduling was backed by a majority of teachers, according to two staff surveys, the most recent of which showed 70 percent of staff supported it. And it’s still likely that the school will move to block scheduling in 2014-15, pending approval by the Verona Area school board, Boehm said.

He added that the postponement was driven solely by concerns over the resource period and not by any sudden influx in staff or parent concerns.

Principal Pam Hammen has advocated for the change, agreeing with proponents who say it gives students and teachers more time to delve into topics or tackle complex assignments in class while reducing the time lost to transitioning from class to class. But she has cautioned that it only works if teachers are well-trained in how best to teach in the longer format.

A school committee that researched the topic visited several area high schools that offer block schedules, such as New Glarus, Monona Grove and Middleton, which switched to a block format last fall.

Block scheduling isn’t new. In Wisconsin, schools in 161 of the state’s 470 school districts use some form of block schedules, according to research conducted by VAHS staff.

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