Editorial: With urgency, new Gunn bell schedule takes shape

Sweeping changes to school schedule to be implemented next school year

Few would have predicted three months ago that a diverse group of Gunn High School teachers, students, parents and administrators would have been able to come to a consensus recommendation on a new school bell schedule.

But this week, in an impressive, well-researched and clearly presented proposal, the "Creative Schedule Committee" met its deadline and unanimously recommended a new "modified block" schedule that will result in Gunn students having fewer and longer class periods each day.

It is the most tangible and meaningful action in response to concerns over student stress and well-being since the starting times of both high schools were pushed back in 2010 and 2011, and it shows that it is possible to move with urgency in a community that too often becomes paralyzed by conflicting voices or a never-ending quest for more information.

If approved on May 26 by the school board, which appears likely, Gunn will join many high schools across the nation, including Paly, in re-engineering the school day to improve the quality of class time, allow time for more individual attention and group learning, and eliminate the grind of daily homework assignments and due dates in every class.

Under the proposed schedule, students will end up attending three sessions per week for each of their classes, will have longer breaks between classes, and have a tutorial period on Tuesday mornings for meeting with teachers or counselors or attending grade-specific social-emotional learning programs. Teachers will have increased time for planning and collaboration.

The proposal also builds upon the lessons learned at other high schools using block schedules by setting a consistent daily start time (8:25 a.m.) and by opting against an unpopular practice, in place at Paly, where on one day a week students attend all their classes in a seven-period day.

The committee also urged that the district's homework policy be enforced — which Superintendent Max McGee has already directed all teachers — and be expanded to address homework in AP and honors classes.

About the only concern being raised over the proposal is whether it can be smoothly implemented with the start of the new school year in August, as the committee is recommending. When the committee began its work, Gunn Principal Denise Herrmann cautioned that January 2016 would likely be the earliest feasible start date given the complications of establishing individual student schedules and of teachers needing to adjust their curricula.

But while some teachers have continued to raise concern about the hazards of rushing to implement the plan in August, the committee concluded it would be more disruptive to switch in the middle of the school year, especially for freshmen.

To address these challenges, the committee recommended that teachers be paid for taking time over the summer to prepare curricula changes and that extensive outreach to parents and students begin immediately after board approval. School administrators are already preparing for the transition.

We couldn't be more pleased or impressed by the work of the committee or by the positive impact we believe these changes will have throughout the Gunn community.

The work of this committee should serve as a school district model for effective stakeholder engagement, research and outreach, carefully explained recommendations and clear implementation steps.

In three short months, the committee met nine times and organized its work through three subcommittees. It consulted with other districts, education experts, held "town hall" meetings, small focus groups and conducted an online survey. One student member told the school board this week that serving on the committee was the most rewarding experience of her high school career.

Principal Herrmann, new to the district this year, and the Gunn faculty played critical roles in the process, and it helped that Herrmann had implemented a similar change at her previous high school in Wisconsin. It also didn't hurt that Herrmann and teachers had a strong motivation to find common ground after the regrettable union grievance filed last November protesting Herrmann's attempt to get teachers to consistently post homework assignments on the Schoology software platform.

Let this accomplishment be a lesson that it need not take years to accomplish important reforms, just clear goals, good leadership and a process that is inclusive but efficient.

We urge the school board to approve the new schedule and August implementation at its May 26 meeting.

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11 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 15, 2015 at 9:40 am

Someone is going to complain about the new bell schedule.

Guess what?

There is no such thing as a perfect bell schedule for every single administrator, teacher, parent, student, staffer, coach, whoever.

Compromises need to be made and people are collaboratively finding a better direction. Will it be perfect? Not a chance. Is there opportunity to improve the bell schedule next year? Sure.

This isn't etched into concrete, it's what's planned for next year.

Just keep that in mind before complaining.

7 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 15, 2015 at 10:17 am

Why not just implement the same bell schedule as Paly? This schedule has been in place for several years, and is well liked by both students and teachers.

8 people like this
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 15, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Thank you to the dedicated group of teachers, students, parents and administrators on the committee for this huge improvement to Gunn!

Paly Parent - I believe the Paly experience was a big factor to enable this change at Gunn. The Gunn proposal learned from Paly and made a few key improvements like: no 7 period day (I've heard lots of students dread Mondays), two tutorials per week one of which is in the middle of the school day, more teacher collaboration time, etc.

7 people like this
Posted by Cindy
a resident of Barron Park
on May 15, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Paly is revisiting "C" day because of the 7 classes on Monday and the stress it causes. Looks like Gunn took the best from Paly in creating their new schedule.

7 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm

Agree, most things can be pushed through faster if there is a will. Gunn's principal seems to really care about the students.

Gunn's schedule appears better than Paly's because of two Tutorials and shorter classes (70 minutes). Paly's 90-minute classes can get long, mostly because not all teachers give breaks. Even a 5-minute break would be helpful.

Why does 9th grade have Advisory almost every week while 12th grade (with college apps, etc.) rarely has Advisory? Ninth graders have 7 periods, already a full schedule - they could use the extra time instead of attending Advisory.

8 people like this
Posted by Onward and upward!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2015 at 8:05 pm

I think this is really great and am very impressed at the collaborative spirit. This is a community that can do! (All that "more information" stuff came from an administration dominated by people who had other things going on that they didn't want anyone to know about - endlessly churning information is a way to delay things until people stop paying attention.)

Now I hope a closer look at educational issue approaches and stress will be in order. The same medical letter that recommended removing zero period also mentioned supporting creativity, and our our district vision mentions creative potential.

But the educational program almost couldn't be better designed to crush creativity. It may not be a problem for many kids, or at least may be endurable if not optimal, but for some, it's absolutely soul-killing to have to work in the way the schools require. One teacher told me once that she let kids choose the topics of their 5-point essays, thinking that was supporting creativity. Literally the students I know think home is where you can be creative and school is where you can't.

Once after a life trauma I sought counseling, and the most effective aspect of the therapy was the counselor talking me into taking up something really creative even though I didn't really have time. It's part of our district vision, it's time we stopped giving creativity no better than ironic lip service.

9 people like this
Posted by Great News
a resident of Midtown
on May 16, 2015 at 6:45 am

This is a great change and we admire PAUSD for this positive move forward. Thank you.

Looking forward less direct instruction (lecture - talk, talk, talk) and more project based learning options across the school district.

13 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2015 at 4:27 pm

After all these years, PAUSD is making changes for the well being of Gunn students. Now if PAUSD can actually implement its homework policy, this will be real change.

10 people like this
Posted by Future Agenda
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 16, 2015 at 8:05 pm

This is fantastic. This is what it looks like when you have a good school board member. Had we elected Dauber in 2012, think of the OCR crisis that we never would have had, the lack of transparency that never could have occurred, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that would not have been wasted and flushed. Think of these other things that could also have happened and that now can happen:

1. implement Schoology on a mandatory universal basis. If this happens, Ken Dauber gets 100% of the credit. He has been there on this since the beginning and he ran to get it done.

2. implement the homework policy on a mandatory, universal basis and extend it to AP and honors. Again, this is Ken's Dauber's baby and he deserves the credit for getting the policy on the books. The community needs to finally rally behind his effort to get it enforced.

Start immediately by slashing all homework by half. That's a start. Require teachers to learn how to teach without assigning gobs of useless busywork.

3. Get some form of advisory into Gunn. Hallelujah.

4. Start getting rid of bad teachers, starting with Phil Winston, and including teachers who bully or degrade students.

5. Stop allowing students to be kept in from recess to punish them for not doing homework or inflicting other ridiculous losses of privileges like participating in extracurriculars. The kids who struggle are the kids who need that the most.

6. Close the achievement gap. Make sure that we have a lane that meets state standards for all. Devote enough funding to ensure success for everyone not just a select few.

7. Ban cellphones during school hours unless it is an emergency. Marc Vincente is right about this. Sorry kids, but he's just right.

8. Implement a service requirement for high school. As the zero period controversy shows, these teens are way too self-centered. Me, me, me. Bring in mandatory service. They need it.

9. End the board culture of secrecy. Don't renew district law firms and issue an RFP. Invite County Counsel to bid for the work and consider bringing in new, better contractors to deliver better transparency to the public, the board, and the press.

10. Recall Camille Townsend. She's a hot mess. Implement term limits so that we can never be subject to this kind of person again.

Thanks Ken for doing what you said you would do and being the right man for the job. Keep going. Clean house and restore trust.

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