Gunn High School students could be saying goodbye to their daily schedule of five or six 58-minute classes by the start of the next school year, per a recommendation released Friday from the school's creative bell schedule committee.
After three short months of work, the committee of students, parents, faculty and administrators is recommending Gunn shift to a 75-minute rotating block schedule starting this August. The committee will present its recommendations Tuesday night to the school board, which will have the ultimate say on whether or not the model moves forward.
After conducting research, visiting local schools, hosting public meetings, conducting focus groups with students and collecting feedback online, the committee said the 75-minute model had the broadest support from teachers and students.
Many of the new schedule's elements -- longer periods, fewer and longer transitions between classes, more time for students to seek extra help from teachers, dedicated and regular professional learning time for teachers -- seek to create a healthier, more balanced and engaged climate at Gunn.
The high school currently operates on a modified block schedule, with five or six classes meeting for nearly an hour each day, broken up by a 12-minute brunch and 39-minute lunch.
Under the new schedule, each class would meet three times per week, with the majority lasting for 75 minutes. There would also be three 70- and three 80-minute blocks; the longer periods allow more time for innovative teaching strategies like hybrid classes or project-based learning. This addresses top student stressors like test stacking, the number of classes per day, frequent transitions between classes and "the relentless flow of overnight and weekend homework assignments," the committee's report reads.
Offsetting the blocks means school ends at similar times each day. A student with a full seven-class schedule would attend 21 classes per week, four per day on Monday through Thursday and five classes on Friday.
The block schedule also allows for longer, 10-minute transitions between classes "to give students a breather and more time to talk to teachers one on one," the committee's recommendation report reads.
Tutorial, a now optional time once a week for students to do things like seek extra help from teachers, complete makeup work or collaborate with other students, would be expanded to two periods twice a week. One period, scheduled on Tuesday mornings instead of at the end of the day, would be treated like a required class. It would also be used as dedicated time for social-emotional curriculum, freshman orientation (Titan 101) and grade-level counselor meetings, the committee said. The second tutorial slot would be the last period of the day on Thursday afternoons. Tutorial is currently almost an hour long at the end of the day on Tuesdays, which the committee wrote is underutilized
A 50-minute slot every Monday afternoon would be given over to teacher collaboration and professional learning, which allows students to get out of school early for the day (at 2:35 p.m.). Students would also get out early on Tuesdays (2:10 p.m.) and Thursdays (2:45 p.m., unless a student attends tutorial.).
Without academic classes during zero period, most students will begin the school day with 75- or 80-minute classes at 8:30 a.m.
A common theme heard in three different student focus groups (one was made up of randomly selected students; another was students with after-school jobs, involved in athletics or other commitments; and the third, special education students) the committee said, was a desire to maintain choice and flexibility. Students have also repeatedly emphasized this desire in their defense of Gunn's early morning zero period, which next year will only be offered for physical education and Titan Broadcast News.
Two main student concerns were that "more stress and confusion will be caused in the short term by a significant change in the schedule" and that longer class periods could result in decreased focus rather than increased engagement.
The committee noted that schools with longer instructional periods found that overall stress diminished as a result of the longer periods because students and teachers are less rushed during the school day. The report acknowledges that anxiety and stress could arise for some populations of students more than others, such as students with special needs, in adjusting to longer periods.
"Both teachers and students feel that there is more 'breathing room' during the school day with the longer class periods," the report reads. "Teachers believe that they are able to teach with more 'depth' vs. 'breadth,' and allow students more time to process the material."
"All schools that went to longer instructional periods stated that they would never go back to a faster-paced schedule," the committee said.
The committee also recommends that the board, district officials and Gunn leadership "take all necessary and appropriate measures to effectively enforce (the) existing homework policy, adjust it as necessary under the new schedule, and adopt and enforce an appropriate homework policy as soon as possible for all AP and Honors courses."
Teachers from both Gunn and other schools that transitioned to a new bell schedule stressed that teacher buy-in and preparation will be crucial to implementation.
Some Gunn teachers have expressed a wariness at pushing through a new schedule for the next school year.
"I really, really, really want to put it out there for everybody to really hear and get that if we are told to start this in August there is going to be, I believe, a semi-disaster," one teacher said at a town hall hosted by the schedule committee last month.
The committee offers a plan for increased professional development for teachers starting next month, continuing over the summer and into the fall.
"Teachers and principals who have made similar changes have made it clear the first year of the transition is difficult, but would never return to a more standard schedule," Superintendent Max McGee wrote in a report for this week's board agenda. "Our Gunn faculty will need the trust and space and full support of our administration and greater community to experiment, to learn, and to make more than a few mid-course corrections."
The board will hear the committee's presentation at its Tuesday meeting, which starts at 6:30 p.m. in district headquarters, at 25 Churchill Ave.
In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss a series of policy updates from the California School Boards Association, consider approving contracts for summer maintenance projects and discuss continuing a pilot school lunch program at Terman Middle School. View the full agenda here.