A Scheduling Change During A Pandemic

Erilynne Tupper, Staff Writer

Pinkerton Academy’s recent switch to block scheduling has been a significant change for everyone, and although many may think that the school transitioned due to the COVID-19 crisis, the school has actually been planning the switch to block scheduling for years. 

Back in 1995, the original Block Scheduling Committee considered making the change when block scheduling had become popular in middle and high schools throughout the nation. However, the school decided the timing wasn’t right, and put aside the idea. But since 2015, the Time Committee has been making plans to switch to block scheduling.

Staff members, alongside the Time Committee, have been working diligently to make sure that the switch to block scheduling proceeds as smoothly as possible.

Curriculum Coach Mrs. Soroko advises teachers on how to use instructional techniques in a block schedule more effectively, so that it aligns with student achievement, engagement, and empowerment. Part of Soroko’s job is to help teachers break down a 90 minute lesson and learn how to utilize that time effectively.

“The argument and the research shows that when you have 80-100 minute blocks you are able to get into depth of content and you also start focusing on skills,” said Soroko. “For example, teaching students how to research correctly, how to read text for information and depth, how to be more precise and accurate when they are working through a problem, and so that time allows to build skills versus just regurgitation of the information.”

Soroko also relayed how block scheduling would help student achievement. 

“Research tells us that when kids/students are engaged that they have voice and choice, [and that] when they have the opportunity to ask their own questions based on their own curiosity that they will become immersed in that type of learning. So, when you have 90 minutes to create those learning environments where curiosity and depth of knowledge (which is learning for understanding, learning to apply the information, and then learning to analyze and evaluate the information), you [students] now have the time to actually learn those skills.”

When asked whether or not there was a specific issue that the school was hoping to solve by using block scheduling, Soroko said, “I think that they [the Time Committee] were being very mindful about how time impacts student learning.”

The Time Committee had very similar goals in mind. Mr. Lee, Dean of Studies and Instruction and member of the Time Committee, explained what the Time Committee hoped to accomplish by switching to block scheduling.

“We talked to a group of Pinkerton students, as a part of our Time Committee process (around 2018-2019), who had been in another school under a different schedule,” in order to gauge their feedback on Pinkerton’s eight period schedule and how it affected their learning, said Mr. Lee. 

Most students expressed that having fewer classes at their previous schools had a calming factor, which helped them not feel as though they were running around chaotically for eight periods every day. 

Mr. Lee went on to explain how different factors helped influence and form the goals that Pinkerton hoped to achieve through the change.

Administrators and committee members had several specific goals for block scheduling. First, the school felt that they were spending too much time passing and changing classes (which took up about 42 minutes of instructional time every day, when performing under the traditional scheduling). Block scheduling saves a lot of time by using only four blocks, enabling Pinkerton to meet the 180 and 990 hour state requirements.

By state regulation, high schools are required to have either 180 days or 990 hours of instructional time every year. When operating under tradition scheduling, Pinkerton only had the option to meet the 180 day requirement. 

Block scheduling allows for more flexibility within the school year. If, for example, Pinkerton couldn’t go to school for the full 180 days due to some sort of national disaster… or pandemic… but it had reached the required 990 instructional hours, then the school would have more flexibility for vacations or for the end of the year.

Pinkerton also wanted to create more flexibility within the school days for both students and teachers.

“An eight period day gives you a certain rigidity,” said Mr. Lee. 

Before block scheduling, teachers had very little time to collaborate with their colleagues within the school day in order to plan their lessons. Now, teachers have more time to collaborate with other teachers of the same subject. During these remote learning times it is especially important for teachers to be able to discuss their virtual learning tactics and curriculum with their colleagues. 

The shift in scheduling was originally set for the 2021-2022 school year; however, 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown gave Pinkerton the opportunity to kick start the process a year early. 

While the transition in scheduling this year may have been difficult for students and teachers, several schooling issues resultant of COVID-19 have been solved due to the change to block scheduling. 

“One of the biggest reasons we went to [block scheduling] early is [fewer] transitions mean less contact, less potential for exposure,” said Mr. Lee. 

By switching to block scheduling in 2020, the school has cut passing times in half therefore also cutting potential COVID-19 exposures down significantly. 

People unfamiliar with block scheduling may wonder what other benefits the change could have on the school. Research and data from other school systems show that schools that perform under block scheduling see disciplinary infractions go down and student GPAs go up. 

As for the infractions, “I think it’s simple math,” said Mr. Lee. “There’s less time for switching periods.” Therefore, less time to get in trouble on campus outside of class time. 

For the increase student GPAs, Mr. Lee believes that the improvement could be due simply to “the added flexibility. Students can get extra help during school,” and they aren’t worrying about seven or eight different classes that they have to attend every single day. 

However, any data that Pinkerton gathers this year will not be comparable to the pre-pandemic performances under the eight period schedule. With remote learning and this hard year of COVID-19, it is impossible to compare this year’s statistics with previous years. The hardships and responses due to this transition may very well not be because of the scheduling change, rather because of other hard factors of 2020. 

This year, “you can’t assign causation,” said Mr. Lee.

It will take Pinkerton years to collect accurate and real data concerning the change to block scheduling. But, as Pinkerton has proven, “we will continue to look and evaluate,”  said Mr. Lee.

As for whether Pinkerton would consider switching back to traditional scheduling, there really isn’t any prominent reason why they should. Transitions take time. Although students and teachers may feel uncomfortable now, given time – and recovery from this pandemic – Pinkerton will learn how to manage block scheduling. The kinks will be worked out and the extra flexibility will give students and teachers the time they need to work with one another successfully.

And as much as this change has affected our school so far, Mr. Lee said, “the best is yet to come.”