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.