Archive for Wednesday, December 14, 2005

THS principal lobbies for move to new schedule

December 14, 2005

A larger high school campus means more travel time for students who must move from one building to the other between classes.

That's why Tonganoxie High School principal Tatia Shelton thinks it would be a good idea to switch to block scheduling at the start of the 2007-08 school year.

A year ago, Tonganoxie school district voters approved a $25.3 million bond to finance school construction. The work includes building a new middle school

for fifth-grade through eighth-grade, renovation of the existing grade school into a kindergarten through fourth-grade facility, and converting the existing junior high and high school buildings into a four-year high school campus.

When complete, the new high school's area -- that of the two main buildings -- will take up the width the equivalent of about two city blocks.

At Monday night's school board meeting, Shelton said she would like to see the district lengthen class periods from the current 49 minutes to perhaps 80 or 85 minutes.

Classes would still last one year, Shelton said. But they would meet every other day -- for longer periods of time -- rather than every day.

Shelton said this is referred to as an alternating block schedule.

"Depending on how we do it, they could take four different classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and four other classes on Tuesday and Thursday and the next week it would flip flop," Shelton said.

The plan, which would cut back on teachers' administrative duties such as taking roll every hour, would provide more valuable teaching time in the classroom, Shelton said.

Shelton, who is a former science teacher, experienced the block program when she taught in another school.

"I loved the block schedule," Shelton said. "Because it's very difficult to get into an activity and in 20 minutes you're cleaning everything up."

And Shelton said, the block scheduling should help with discipline.

"Discipline improves in direct response to the block plan," Shelton said. "When kids are jumping up and changing classes, that's when they have time to be disruptive, not when they are engaged in the classroom."

And, she said, the block plan would allow time for an advisory period, time for tutoring and time for making up missed lab work or tests.

School board member Ron Moore asked if students would lose seat time in front of a core teacher.

Shelton, who noted she's in the early stages of working on this plan, said she wouldn't know the answer to Moore's question until she had a specific class schedule to look at.

Higher-quality time

Board president Leana Leslie said, "I would think that the quality of the minutes that you've got in there (the classrooms) would be higher."

Leslie compared the block schedule to the all-day, every-other-day kindergarten program the district has.

"From the teachers I've talked to the quality of time they have with their students is better," Leslie said.

Moore noted that Shelton was talking about high school, not kindergarten, and added, "It should all be quality time."

Tammie George, assistant principal of Tonganoxie Elementary School, said she thought the high school's current 49-minute classes resulted in "a lot of wasted time in transition."

"When you talk about five to 10 minutes every time you transition from one subject to the next that's a long time," George said.

Shelton said she's merely in the "exploring stage" of looking into the block plan. In January she plans to begin talking to her teachers about the idea.

"What we want to do is find a system that works best for Tonganoxie High School, for our staff and our students and our community," Shelton said.

Shelton also talked to board members about where offices for administrators and staff will be when the high school construction project is complete.

Tentative plans, Shelton said, are to have her and assistant principal Brent Smith in the current junior high school, which Shelton referred to as the west campus.

In the same area would be the attendance clerk, accountant, counselors, nurse and BIST supervisor.

In the east campus, in the existing high school administrative office, would be athletics director Brandon Parker and an athletic/activities secretary.

Concerns by member

Board member Ron Moore voiced concern.

"To me it's a little disappointing to spend $12 million on a high school, putting a façade on it and now we're moving all our administrative offices to the junior high," Moore said.

Leslie said that in the early stages of construction planning, the school district's building committee conscientiously decided it was important to put construction dollars into classroom space to benefit students, and to use the existing administrative offices.

Shelton said it makes sense to use the office space in the junior high, where there is more room than in the high school.

Moore said that no matter where the offices are, it's important to have administrators in both buildings when students are moving between classes.

"I think we need to have an administrator in the hallway here and an administrator in the hallway there," Moore said.

Shelton agreed, saying that was the plan.

Board members also discussed security for the new high school. Shelton said if the junior high were used for the administrative offices, that is where visitors would check in.

She said she's unsure what to do about the cafeteria . The high school has a cooking kitchen where meals are prepared. But the high school's dining room is fairly small. The junior high has a serving kitchen and much larger dining room. Now, junior high meals are cooked at the high school and taken to the junior high.

"The best place to use would be the current junior high cafeteria because it's much larger," Shelton said. "I'd have to transfer food over there."

When Moore said that might be the solution, Shelton asked, "How much do we want to spend on kitchen help and transporting meals?"

The board took no action regarding its discussion with Shelton.

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