Block schedule proposed for Russell County Schools

Block schedule proposed for Russell County Schools

At last month’s Russell County Board of Education meeting (Jan. 28), Dr. Adam Kilcrease, Director of Secondary Instruction for the Russell County School District, presented a proposal for the system to change from the traditional period scheduling to block scheduling. He presented both pros and cons for the change with the pros far outweighing the cons. The board will vote on the change at the next meeting on Feb. 25.  

Russell County Schools superintendent Dr. Brenda Coley said she is definitely for the change. 

“I’m not sure as to the history of when it was changed or why it was changed,” Coley said, “but it’s something we have to evaluate.” 

She said the biggest factor was making sure all of the teachers had input in the decision, and that one disadvantage is that teachers will need more professional development training on how to engage kids during the longer class period. 

“It’s one thing to have more time, but we need to make sure it is quality teaching. We are prepared for that,” she said. Coley also said that they will be monitoring students to make sure they are taking the right classes and can graduate on time. She said kids will have more time for extracurricular activities, like sports, and will be able to get home in a timely manner. 

Kilcrease said the district formed a team of faculty and staff with various backgrounds to research the pros and cons associated with block scheduling. He said the team is confident the transition will go well, if the board approves the change. 

“With teachers being the most influential factor related to student success, the team surveyed RCHS teachers to understand their perspective related to the initiative. The survey showed that our teachers are on board with the change, have experience with the change, and are excited about the potential block scheduling has for curriculum, instruction, assessment, and improvement. Considering that teacher buy-in is the first step of implementing a change of this caliber…our team is prepared to support the teachers and students throughout the process.”

According to Kilcrease, teachers have had introductory professional development in regards to block scheduling and more is being planned.

“We will continue to research, develop, and provide support for teachers to assist in the transition before and after block scheduling is put into practice. Responding to the variance of teacher experience with block scheduling, our team is equipped and excited about providing targeted whole group, small group, and individual professional development to assist with successful execution of the new schedule. Our team of experienced and knowledgeable administrators, teachers,  and staff members is working diligently to finalize our plan for success so we be able to provide additional high-quality professional development before the 2020-2021 school year begins.  After our plan has been implemented, we will continue to reflect and respond to data produced by teachers, students, and stakeholders with a focus on support and improvement at the forefront of everything we do.”

Block Scheduling Pros

The change to block scheduling will give students more opportunities to earn credits toward graduation and also allow for more rigorous and differentiated instruction because of extended class time. Currently, in period scheduling, students can earn 28 credits over four years. In block scheduling they would be able to earn 32 credits over four years. 

The longer class period will let students complete more project-based assignments and additional assignments, such as science labs, readings, and discussions. In period scheduling, students have 53 minutes of class time, while black scheduling has 94 minutes of class time. 

Teachers would have less students per semester which would allow for more planning. Instead of spending so much time on grading papers, making copies, etc., they can dedicate more time to individual students. 

Students would focus on four classes per semester (eight per year) as opposed to seven of the same classes for the entire year, and they would have less homework, fewer tests, and other assignments.  

Black scheduling for technical courses will be easier, allowing students to avoid having to take two CTE courses back-to-back. It also gives students more time for instruction and hands-on instruction in shop and other labor-intensive courses. More time allows the school system to increase its program presence in the community by giving more time to work with local businesses and industries. 

More time could be given to data analysis, planning, and collaboration. Also, fewer classes means fewer transitions and less hallway time for students, which could lead to a decrease in the need for discipline. 

Block Scheduling Cons

Student and teacher absences would result in missing more content than on a period schedule. Also, students would need to maintain a longer attention span for the extended class time. Keeping students interested for 90 minutes of rigorous instruction can be problematic with block scheduling. Teachers will be learning strategies to help with attentiveness. Some successful strategies that have been implemented in other school systems are to give students a short break for a few minutes each class, allowing them to check their phones and chat and to give them time out of their seat to work on learning exercises. 

Another disadvantage is that a possible timespan could exist between core classes. For example, there could be two full semesters without a math course. Kilcrease said that RCHS will look closely at each student’s transcript to determine what they need. 

“A team of counselors, administrators, and other faculty members monitor student transcripts and progress year-round,” Kilcrease said. “That team will focus on core classes first, make sure systems, processes, and structures are in place to make course determinations that positively impact student achievement and reflect each student’s interest. When a perfect solution related to course sequence is not possible for an individual student, we have plans in place to support students in the core areas through additional resources, workshops, and supplemental instruction throughout the year.”