Innovations in Academic Scheduling
Writer // Janelle Morrison
Photography // Submitted
The students of Zionsville Community High School (ZCHS) will be introduced to a modified schedule going into the 2018-19 school year. The planning of the modified academic schedule has been a “purpose-driven process” that has resulted in the discussion, development and impending rollout of a schedule aimed to best meet the needs of the students.
We discussed, at length, the details of what the schedule will look like this fall with ZCHS Principal Tim East. East shared a “behind-the-scenes” perspective of the planning as well as the goals of the modified schedule and how it ties back into the Strong in Every Way initiative led by Zionsville Community Schools’ Superintendent Dr. Scott Robison.
There are a number of traditional and modified block schedules around the nation. While ZCHS’ modified schedule will not operate as a traditional block schedule like some neighboring schools run on, it will have some block components during the week. For example, Carmel High School runs on a traditional 4×4 block schedule – four periods on one day and four periods the next, alternating on “Blue” and “Gold” days. Instead, ZCHS will schedule its “Green” and “Silver” days to run on a traditional seven-period schedule on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays while Wednesdays (Green Day) and Thursdays (Silver Day) will operate in four-period blocks.
“We are very excited about the work our team has been doing to consider how we can structure our school day to best meet our students’ academic and social-emotional needs,” East said. “After hundreds of man-hours of consideration, the schedule that is under development is a purposeful blend of 50, 57 and 94-minute periods that builds on the solid foundation of academic success our students have traditionally experienced and capitalizes on a reduced number of passing periods two days per week to capture time to more purposefully focus on the socio-emotional growth opportunities our students need.”
Why a modified academic schedule?
“As the Strong in Every Way campaign continues to move forward throughout the district, we as administrators, teachers and counselors began asking ourselves what we could do to address what we have heard from our students, parents and focus groups,” East said. “A reoccurring statement that we hear is that a seven-period day feels like a treadmill to some of our students. There are pros and cons to a 50-minute class period, and it allows for only so much depth of relationship that can be built between the students and the teachers. We have also collaborated with our department chairs for their input and will have met with the chairs 66 times by the start of the new school year.”
East explained that ZCHS researched how other local area schools that are on a block or modified schedule have developed their schedules and the implementation of the Student Resource Time (SRT) period.
“We looked at Carmel High School, Homestead High School, Avon and HSE, looking for a model that would work for our school and create some time in the day for what we are calling our Mentor Access Period (MAP). What we decided would be best for our school is to have seven-period days on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, we will insert eight periods by using blocks, and that eighth period would create time for a 57-minute MAP every week. We will have Professional Learning Curriculum (PLC) every Wednesday, so it creates a more consistent schedule.”
East explained that from a student’s perspective, the modified schedule doesn’t change the rate at which they earn credits towards Indiana’s Core 40 for graduation nor does it affect technical or academic honors diplomas. Those components will remain consistent for the students.
“That was important to us, and we wanted to make sure that we protected the instructional minutes,” East emphasized. “We’ve been a highly successful high school, and we know that a lot of the academic achievement of our students is related to being with the teachers for the minutes that they currently have. As we compared the different models, using our current number of minutes as the anchor was something we looked at very carefully.”
Currently, over a two-week cycle, ZCHS students meet for 493 minutes, and with the modified schedule, they will meet for 488 minutes. That is 30 seconds less per period, per day. On the days that the students have four periods, they will gain 21 minutes (of instructional time that is spent) in passing periods on seven-period days.
“The minutes that collect up from that give us the opportunity to have that 57-minute MAP every week. Another benefit of this schedule is the collaboration time for our teachers as well as a more consistent schedule for our students. It [MAP] will allow our students to have that feeling of success, access and help to lower their stress. It’s not just the school day that creates stress. We know our students are heavily involved in other positive activities beyond the school day, and that’s healthy for them, but we have strong academic demands on their behalf. And if we can create a little more time to address their concerns, we think that’s important.”
By collaborating and putting all the school’s resources together in a purposeful schedule, the schedule allows students to have access to teachers and other caring adults who are there at ZCHS to engage and help the students prepare for adulthood.
“We know from all kinds of different sources that when we feel safe and connected, our emotional state, our social interactions and our academics are all going to better for it,” East concluded. “That’s our goal. We are fortunate that we are in a place that we are doing this in a proactive manner. I don’t think we’re going to solve all of society’s ills, social pressures and other pressures that affect our students, but I do think that we can continue to assist with that as a focus by adding this additional protective layer.”