CLIFTON PARK -- The Shenendehowa Central School District is studying ways that class day schedules can be shifted for middle and high school students district-wide, with the goal of making classroom instructional time more efficient for both students and teachers.
The conversation about modifying the district’s class times began about 2 1/2 years ago, Elizabeth Wood, assistant superintendent for instruction at Shenendehowa said at an Oct. 25 Board of Education meeting.
While the district aims to have a final blueprint for the changes in place by the September of the 2021 school year, the administration is still very much in the planning phase for the project, she said.
For the past 60 years, Shen has followed one basic class day schedule for the large district’s multiple middle schools and high schools. Each day consists of nine class periods, including one 40-minute lunch period.
All classes meet every day for about 40 minutes, except for science labs and physical education, which meet on alternating days.
Two of the shifts being seriously considered by Shen, Wood said, is a switch to a six-period day, where classes meet three out of every four days for 60 minutes, or a four period day, where classes meet every other day for an hour and a half.
Each of the two alternatives would call for fewer, and shortened hallway transitions and a shortened lunch period, down to about 25 minutes, though no students would be able to opt out of having the lunch period, Wood said.
Any alternatives would also need to accommodate at least four lunch periods due to the high student population, she said.
The decision to make the shift stemmed from multiple factors, Wood said, but largely was based on the desire to give both students and teachers the most time possible to focus on education while keeping classes productive.
“It really led us, not to jumping right into conversations about schedule, but what are we looking for in our classrooms?” Wood said. “What do we want the day-to-day experience to be for our students?”
Part of solving the equation of how many classes students actually should be going to in a day involves examining the notion that the same classes meeting each day might not be the best use of time for both students and teachers, Wood said.
“Some of our students are preparing for eight classes every day. Not all, some are preparing for six classes every day, some are preparing for seven, but it is a heavy lift for many,” she said.
“We also need to talk about the structure of the day. Is it the best structure? Is it the best way to provide education? Is it the best way to maximize time?” Shen Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said.
So far, Shen has surveyed 1,345 students, parents and teachers to gauge their opinions on various scheduling models.
The district also selected 43 students, parents and teachers to take part in focus groups last spring to receive feedback on the ideas, and has formed a committee that consists of 32 middle school and high school teachers and administrators to ultimately craft the alternative schedule.
While the results from the survey were not immediately available on Monday, Wood said the responses largely showed that parents and students both expressing an interest in the concept of the adjustment, but also had questions about what the adjusted school day would look like in practice.
Shen is also working with an educational consultant for the final plan.
Shen is not the first area school district to consider swapping out traditional school schedules to accommodate the shifting needs of students.
Niskayuna High School is currently working on a plan to move high school students from a 7:40 a.m. start time to an 8:30 a.m. start time, with the goal to implement the changes by September 2020.
That change has come as school officials have begun to acknowledge the research supporting a later start time for adolescent students.
Start times for the school day will not be affected by the new schedules at Shen, however, board members, while supportive of the plans for change, cautioned that communication with the public needs to be open in order to avoid that impression.
They also urged the administration to be as thorough as possible during the planning stages as the district begins to wade into the new territory.
“This is a blank slate, and I think it’s important that it’s a step by step process, and I think we need to continue to think through it like that,” vice president of the school board Deanna Stephenson said.
“It’s wonderful to see that people are open minded and would be willing to look at different things, and I just think that’s part of the process,” said board member Christina Rajotte, who sat in on some of the focus groups.
“This is really what we need, the public sharing of the process,” board member Naomi Hoffman said.
A final version of the alternative schedule will return to the Board of Education at a later date for official approval.