BOE Talks Schedule Changes

ST. MARYS — After two hours of discussion and listening to a presentation, members of a local school board agreed to move forward with a scheduling change at the high and middle school levels during a special meeting Wednesday evening.

Members of the St. Marys Board of Education met Wednesday evening to discuss the switch from a traditional schedule to a trimester schedule — with the deciding factor being the fact that students would receive more instructional time in a trimester schedule versus the traditional schedule the upper-level schools currently use.

Memorial High School Principal Dave Lewis presented board members with a presentation about the switch — such as how the students’ schedule would change. He noted the two reasons for the suggested change.

“We’ve been told as a district we need to cut between $1 million and $1.5 million for the next school year,” Lewis said. “We’re also charged with creating the most efficient schedule to maximize our resources and preserve the best education possible for our students.”

Lewis noted he, along with high school Guidance Counselor Bill Cheslock and St. Marys Middle School Principal Mary Miller attended a workshop in Dayton on creative scheduling hosted by educational consultant Elliot Merenbloom. Merenbloom then visited the building earlier this month to explore scheduling options with the high school and middle school administration and guidance staff, with the local administration eventually narrowing the schools’ options down to the traditional or the trimester model.

The current schedule — which is under the traditional model — has the students going for nine periods a day, with each period averaging around 40 minutes. Under the current schedule, the average student spends 289 minutes in class each day, has 33 minutes of Rider Time each day, has 32 minutes of passing time each day, spends 30 minutes in lunch each day, spends 41 minutes in study hall each day and has 103 minutes without teacher instruction/extra help each day.

The proposed schedule — a trimester — would have the school year divided into three, 12-week grading periods, with class period length at approximately 60 to 70 minutes and students having five courses per trimester, so 15 courses each year. So far, Lewis said, the trimester schedule is conceptual — things like class selections and the rest of the nuts and bolts are not set in stone.

“Most of the traditional yearly classes may be completed in two trimesters,” Lewis said, adding he would have to meet with department heads to discuss how certain classes, like AP classes, would be affected. He also noted he has spoken with other districts — such as Celina, who recently switched to trimesters, and former Superintendent Ken Baker, who said the switch is becoming more popular as districts look to do as much as they can with smaller funds.

To compare the school’s current schedule with a trimester would show percentage changes, he said, also noting the trimester would not include the study hall period currently in the students’ schedules, but it would keep the Rider Time, or extra help, period.

Under the current schedule, students spend 322 minutes, or 76 percent, of their time in class and 103 minutes, or 24 percent, of their time out of class. Under a trimester schedule, students would spend 375 minutes, or 88 percent, of their time in class and 50 minutes, or 12 percent, of their time out of class.

“By going to the trimester alone, compared to our current schedule, students will get 159 additional hours of instruction per year,” Lewis said.

“We worked that out, and that would end up being 22 additional days of instruction for our students. That’s 22, seven-hour school days without adding a single day on your calendar.”

As for the middle school level, Miller noted the change to trimesters would not affect her school as much as the high school. The middle schedule would continue a year-long schedule, with the overlapping courses — what the high school calls “electives” and what the middle school calls “exploratories” go on trimesters, as well as both schools having a trimester grading system.

“One of the things Dave pointed out several times is the advantage of trimesters is increasing the time we have for instructional time every day,” she said, noting the middle school’s specific interest in increasing instructional time in language arts and math.

The first step in implementing the schedule change to trimesters, Cheslock noted, would be for the board to amend the master schedule — the guidance department cannot do anything associated with changing the scheduling anything in the computer until the master schedule is amended.

Board Member Ralph Wiley questioned the timing factor — board members had not heard much of anything about the switch before Wednesday’s meeting. Time — both Cheslock and Lewis noted — is something the district doesn’t have, no matter what schedule was picked. They both noted the school is already behind on scheduling for next year.

“I would love to spend an entire year to investigate this,” Cheslock said. “We’ve done this pretty quickly — the reality is if you’re going to cut $1 million, $1.5 million, something is going to shake it right now. Right now, not next fall, right now it’s going to shake. You’re going to eliminate personnel, 8 percent of your budget is personnel. If we have to cut $1 million, $1.5 million, teachers are going to lose positions. That’s going to affect the way we schedule.”

He added that for the district to play around with what they can offer students next year, they need to know how many people they have to work with.

“We need to know our personnel,” Cheslock said.

Board Member Ronda Shelby, who sat in on classes in Mason, where trimesters are offered, noted the switch would take a while to iron out, but the switch to trimesters would be more beneficial for the students’ education because of the increased amount of instruction time.

Wiley said he was concerned about the community’s frustration about information not being shared before the board passed the measure — stating there’s educational merit but there may not be cost-merit — but added they won’t know about the district’s cuts until April.

Wiley said the community should be in the loop — and the information should be shared with the community first. Cheslock said they wanted to present it to the board first before they moved forward.

“There would’ve been a whole lot of phone calls to you and from you,” Cheslock said, noting the traditional schedule would still see a cut in the number of periods per day. “Something has to happen — either one is going to cause change.”

Shelby said she believed this step would be an educational step that could help with the community’s perception of the board.

“The community does not have a good perception of this board,” she said. “I can tell you that. I’m with the common people in the community. They do not have a good perception of us, they think there have been many mistakes. I think this is a way we start to mend our fences. We’re going to say there’s 22 more days we’re going to educate our children. I just think we have to make jumps, leaps and bounds before we ever go back for a levy.”

Wiley stressed he would like to see a plan of how the trimester would be implemented and “effectively communicated,” which Lewis noted he could provide.

“This is a great concept, but I feel we are being pressured to move forward with something without effectively communicating,” Wiley said.

Lewis stressed he would rather be proactive and say “hey we made a mistake” than having to start over.

Curriculum Director Bill Steinbrunner noted if the district would wait a year — it would still be in the same position.

After more discussion, board members agreed to proceed with the trimester schedule. Superintendent Jerry Skiver said he would begin putting together a master schedule for board members to approve, so that the guidance department can move forward with scheduling, which could be as early as the board’s annual district tour, which begins Monday morning.

After meeting with the board, Lewis noted he would present the information with his staff, students, parents and interested community members, and would set up community meetings to speak about the change so that the community was informed about the decision.

The next regularly scheduled St. Marys Board of Education meeting will be at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at the high school/middle school.