The Mehlville School District’s Scheduling Review Committee considered dozens of ideas about how to build the perfect high school schedule on the way to its recommendation of a flex schedule.
The Board of Education will hear the committee’s two-step recommendation for a minor change from full block scheduling next year and a possible switch to a flex schedule the year after that when it meets at 6:45 p.m. today — Thursday, Dec. 15 — in the Mehlville High School Library, 3200 Lemay Ferry Road.
Next year’s suggested schedule change is so minor that Superintendent Chris Gaines said the board may not even vote on it.
For the 2018-2019 school year, however, students at Oakville and Mehlville high schools could have the opportunity to choose whether they want a block or traditional schedule in what’s known as a flex schedule.
At the first meeting of the committee in September, committee members — comprised of a cross-section of parents, students, teachers and administrators from each high school — set out what their top priorities were in finding the best schedule for Mehlville.
In surveys sent out by the committee, students indicated that stability and options were their first choice in what matters in a schedule. Parents chose instructional time and class size as their priority, while students selected those as their second choice.
Mehlville and Oakville high schools operate on the same block schedule, with a study hall/character-education class hybrid alternating every other day that is called TAP, or Teacher Advisory Period, at Mehlville and ANP, or Academic Networking Period, at Oakville.
Many of the students mentioned in the surveys that they appreciate TAP and ANP, time already built into their schedules to do homework or meet with teachers for extra tutoring, and wanted to keep that aspect of the schedule.
Although some parents have said their student gains nothing from that hour, most students and parents who came to committee meetings and responded to their surveys said they hope that the built-in study hall stays in any new schedule.
Feedback from students that they need extra time for homework drives another conversation on whether students have too much homework, Mehlville High Assistant Principal Jason Landherr said.
Many students at Mehlville work part time in addition to school and sports, they said in the surveys.
But MHS Assistant Principal Andy Ross, a committee member, noted that one of the students responding to the survey said that while TAP works for him or her, that does not necessarily mean it works for everyone.
“This kid said we should consider what the students with other learning types need in order to succeed,” Ross said at a meeting this fall for parents at MHS. “I think the fact that a kid thought of that was really cool.”
Getting adults to think in a similarly innovative way was one of the tough aspects of the committee process, Ross added.
“The first night we met, we said we’ve got to do what’s best by the kids,” he said. “The tough thing is getting all of us to think outside of the box, because we all grew up going to school in a certain way and maybe it doesn’t have to be that way for everybody. Maybe what’s good for these kids is we figure out a way to get that for them.”
Although some of the districts that Mehlville has sought to model itself after operate on a traditional schedule, including Lindbergh Schools and Taylor County School District in Kentucky, the committee threw out a traditional schedule at its second meeting.
The committee believed a traditional schedule is incompatible with Mehlville.
“No one wants to even remotely consider a traditional schedule moving forward,” Ross said this fall.
The decision shows that despite a common perception from parents that the committee was operating based on a financial incentive to cut costs, the panel was focused on students, not money, the officials said. If money was the only objective, the committee would have gone with traditional, Ross said. That change could save the district up to $2 million a year because a traditional schedule uses fewer teachers than block.
Some high school parents and grandparents were upset at the district’s decision to look into block scheduling because they felt they had been promised that it would continue if last year’s 49-cent tax-rate increase, Proposition R, was approved.
However, the district never included block scheduling on its list of Prop R promises.
The schedule was on the list of possible cuts, but that’s because everything was on the table for cuts if Prop R did not pass, said board member Kevin Schartner, who attended the fall parent meeting and served as treasurer of the pro-Prop R campaign committee, the Mehlville-Oakville United Committee.
“When people look at Prop R and think if Prop R would not have passed, we would’ve gotten rid of block scheduling, so why are we looking at doing that now? That would have been ‘What’s the cheapest model?’ Whereas this is what’s best for our kids,” Schartner said. “It’s a completely different focus. That is why I think it’s good that we’re looking at this, and I like the way you guys are looking at it.”
The high schools switched to a block schedule in 1997 after a campaign by students and teachers who wore “Eight Block Rocks” buttons to school board meetings.
But not everyone was in support of the change at the time, Ross noted.
One of the committee’s teachers fought “tooth and nail” against block scheduling, but now loves it and is trying to keep it, he said
The committee’s meetings were not well attended by parents, despite committee chair John DeWalle scheduling public meetings to coincide with each high school’s open house.
At a Nov. 10 meeting for parents, an Oakville High parent said she worried about whether her student would be able to get the classes he needs in a flex schedule that incorporates some traditional classes.
“I fear my child ending up in all traditional classes,” she said.
Finding the right classes at the right time is a struggle no matter what schedule a school operates under, Ross said.
One of the options the committee quizzed students on is whether they would be interested in an optional “zero hour” before school or a ninth hour after school, during which they could take classes and free up other areas of their schedule.
Of the MHS students who responded to the survey, 35 percent said they were interested in having both of the extra hours as options for classes. Many of the students who were negative on the concept believed the extra class times would be mandatory.