Written by: McKenna Hill
In a traditional day at Smithville High School, students visit four of their eight total classes on an every other day rotation. This allows both teachers and students alike to spend a whole day preparing homework and lesson plans for their next class period. It also gives teachers a generous amount of plan time, with one full block dedicated to preparing curriculum every day.
Yet, due to a series of unfortunate but necessary budget cuts, Smithville’s district administration is considering a schedule change for the 2020-2021 school year.
“First of all, there are no concrete facts,” said Dr. Michelle Kratofil, assistant superintendent of academic services. “This idea is just something that we would like to explore.”
Coming into the 2018-2019 school year, the school was granted the money to build a new elementary school and add eight new classrooms to the high school, along with several other renovations throughout the district.
However, the success of these district-wide projects was largely dependant on growth in student population. Yet, over a three school year period, the district as a whole has only grown by a mere 9 students. This has caused major budgeting difficulties for the district, as school functions are funded by enrollment numbers.
“There are some needs we’ve been hearing of at the high school that we think a schedule modification might help with,” said Kratofil. “We are doing some budget restructuring, because with the current schedule, at any given time 25 percent of teachers are not actively teaching, and if a schedule change will help us be more efficient, then that’s something we have to consider.”
With the current lack of funding due to low enrollment rates, many programs and activities within the district may be subject to change. Officials at central office have already been working to cut unnecessary spending.
“Prior to going to the voters and asking for the levy increase to add onto the high school and build the new elementary, our growth pattern was very different, and we were seeing that we were growing at a much more rapid rate,” said Kratofil. “And since we just haven’t seen that growth, there are a lot of things we will have to adjust for.”
The current schedule at the high school, according to students and staff, contributes greatly to the classroom environment.
This schedule change has the potential to interfere with most of the routine procedures that currently go on at the high school. Changing to traditional scheduling would disrupt everything from the amount of time spent in class, available plan periods for teachers, and even the amount of homework students will have to complete each night.
“I enjoy the environment at Smithville,” said James Wilson, first-year STEM teacher at SHS. “My students are pretty hard-working, and they definitely value where their grades are at, which makes teaching not too bad because I don’t have to worry about being on most students to get their work done.”
Like many teachers at Smithville, Mr. Wilson teaches several completely different classes, such as geometry, Project Lead the Way, and various engineering courses. With each of these classes requiring their respective lesson planning, curriculum building, and grading, it is easy to imagine the scale to which Wilson and other teachers must spend time preparing to teach.
“Right now, teachers are on plan for about a quarter of their school day. That planning period is essential for teachers like me because it’s when we can get things done,” said Mr. Wilson. “If that time was shortened or amended, teacher’s jobs would get just a little harder.”
In addition to teachers facing new difficulties without block scheduling, students will also be impacted significantly, both inside and outside of school hours.
“Going from an hour and a half to forty minutes, or whatever it may end up being, stops my labs from happening,” said Reian Wilson, advanced science teacher. “With my upper-level classes, all of the fun stuff we do can’t happen, testing becomes an issue, and even my regular lessons would have to change.”
With student workload being just as intense as teachers’, shorter class periods would inevitably lead to more work outside of school for the student body as well.
“This also means that we don’t have time in class for homework anymore,” said Ms. Wilson. “All of my students would have between thirty minutes to an hour of homework every single night when right now, they usually have none.”
The majority of students at Smithville are avid participants in extracurriculars and exhibit great talent and pride in their accomplishments. This same population of peers are actively seeking out and maintaining a job and volunteer opportunities, internships, personal and artistic interests, and their own social lives outside of school hours.
“I think it would make things a lot more difficult for me,” said Austin Claypool, senior at Smithville. “I already find it hard to keep up with my coursework in these advanced classes.”
Claypool is a prime example of an overloaded student at Smithville, sporting a schedule packed with AP, college credit, and upper-level classes, all on top of having a job and trying to maintain a social life with his peers.
“Switching it back to where you have shorter class upper-level periods just means we would have less time to get engaged with teachers and less time to do more homework,” said Claypool. “That just doesn’t really seem to make sense to me.”
However, despite the obvious hesitations from students and staff, there are some undeniable benefits to changing the schedule at the high school. According to the staff at SHS, classes such as foreign language, music, and math all require repetition and continuous exposure and practice with the material in order to be successful, which would be a large positive
“There are positives and negatives to all of it,” said Mr. Wilson. “It would actually be beneficial to see most of my math students every day because it would help me continue lessons without worrying about them forgetting any of the material.”
With there being many options and arguments both for and against moving to a new schedule at the high school, there are no concrete decisions being made about the issue at central office at this time. Staff at central office plans to continue researching and developing these ideas over the course of the next school year in order to come to a decision that will bring the most good to the district and the people in it.
“I think the parameters we need to consider,” said Kratofil, “is whether or not there is a different scheduling option that best meets the needs of the school and the district.”