Mehlville, Oakville students express support to board for block scheduling

First of two parts: Block scheduling key factor in their success, students say

Mehlville, Oakville students express support to board for block scheduling

By Gloria Lloyd

First of two parts

Students from Mehlville and Oakville high schools asked the Mehlville Board of Education last week not to cut block scheduling, which they see as an integral part of their high school experience.

A scheduling team comprised of assistant principals from each high school presented to the board Aug. 11 what it learned while studying block scheduling and some possible alternatives since last fall.

The school district’s examination of block scheduling signals that it could be overhauled for the first time — except for minor tweaks — since it was implemented in the district in 1997, but the current format is popular with students.

The schedule, which consists of longer classes meeting on alternate days, is popular with students and teachers but costs significantly more to operate than traditional or hybrid schedules.

Speaking to a packed crowd at the Aug. 11 meeting in the Mehlville High School Library, eight students and recent alumni attributed much of their academic success to block scheduling.

Oakville High School sophomore Madi-son Hassler, the daughter of Mehlville-Oakville United organizer Peggy Hassler, said block schedules allow for individualized instruction, with more flexibility and productivity than traditional schedules.

“When students attend as many as seven relatively short classes a day, instruction can become fragmented, whereas with longer classes, it gives us more time to think and engage in active learning,” Madison said. “If you lived the life of a student for one week — heck, even one day ­— I think you would realize your mistake.”

Mehlville High senior Dominic Meyer said he has seen many changes in his years at Mehlville, but he never thought block scheduling would go away since it helps prepare students for college lab courses.

“We want to see this school district thrive for many years to come,” he said. “Are you willing to sacrifice the education of our students just to save a few bucks in the end?”

Sean Van de Riet, a 2015 Mehlville graduate now majoring in computer science in college, told the board he would not be as successful as he is now without Mehlville’s block scheduling.

Choosing a schedule that gave teachers less flexible time would be “unfair to teachers, who don’t make enough money as it is, and it’s unfair to students,” Van de Riet said. “(Block scheduling) familiarizes students with how college life will be.”

MHS senior Tony Smith said any change would negatively affect students in Advanced Placement, or AP, classes and students enrolled in vocational courses at South County Technical High School.

“I’d like to start off this speech here with a quote that we say a lot in the world of speech and debate and that is, ‘The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions,'” Tony said. “Now in that presentation, we saw a lot of the pros that the traditional schedule or the hybrid schedule will bring us, but what I believe is that we need to look at the anecdotal evidence of students in their everyday lives to see that this is actually going to be a bad thing.”

MHS senior Anna Herman noted that the district is emphasizing more project-based courses such as Project Lead the Way, or PLTW, which are enhanced by the extra time in a block schedule.

The lab work for her two PLTW classes is already difficult to fit into a 90-minute class, let alone a shorter class, Anna noted.

Mehlville cheerleader and Student Coun-cil member Carly Herman noted that it will be harder for students to participate in extracurricular activities if they don’t have the time allowed in the block schedule to finish their homework, and it will be harder for the marching bands to find time to practice during the school day.

The team Superintendent Chris Gaines convened to study block scheduling and its alternatives includes Oakville High Assistant Principals Brian Brennan and Jason Buatte, Mehlville High Assistant Principals Jason Landherr and Andy Ross and Witzel Alternative Academy Director John DeWalle.

The team told the Call that it has been meeting since late fall, after community suggestions in a savings survey that cutting block scheduling could save money.

The survey was opened to district em-ployees Dec. 1 and to the public Dec. 14 and ran for several weeks.

The team’s presentation kicked off by noting that based on surveys of the community, “the use of block scheduling at the high school level is believed to be an inefficient use of district funds.”

Block scheduling uses 31 more teachers than traditional scheduling, a minimum annual cost to the district of $1.7 million in salaries and benefits.

“I think really part of it was just in re-sponse to some of the results that came back from the community survey … and I think it’s always a good idea for us to reflect back on what we do,” Landherr said.

The entire team had taught in a variety of different schedules and went into the review open-minded, Ross said.

“If you’re doing an honest review of practice, which is a good idea no matter what profession or anything you’re doing, you go in hopefully open-minded,” he said. “If you go in with a biased viewpoint, you’re going to come out with a biased viewpoint.”

The group examined 24 school districts and 40 high schools — including nine traditional, eight hybrids and six block schedules — along with data on block scheduling. Traditional schedules are comprised of seven classes a day and hybrid schedules combine elements of both types of schedules and are highly customizable.

A block schedule builds in more contact time than some other schedules, but only 880 hours of instructional time a year, compared to 916 hours in traditional and various hybrid schedules. Most of the difference in instructional time comes from the removal of the long study hall/character-education hybrid class that Mehlville and Oakville students now have to take as one of the eight blocks in their schedule.

That does not mean that some instruction does not happen in those study halls, Ross told the board, but the team counted it as intervention, not instruction.

Hybrid schedules allow for the most instructional and contact time, but less student intervention time, the team noted.

After the team presented the data it has accumulated to the board last week, an invitation went out to teachers, students and parents of both high schools Friday to serve on a committee that will study block scheduling this fall and issue a recommendation to the board in December. The district will hold open meetings at both high schools in September to get feedback.

Next week: Gaines and board members give their thoughts on block scheduling.