The school district has released a new bell schedule for Palo Alto High School, which was revised at the eleventh hour this summer to bring it into compliance with a state-mandated instructional minutes requirement.
The revised schedule, which students and staff will see when school starts next week, was reviewed by an external auditor who determined it meets the California Department of Education's minimum for instructional time. The district hired San Diego-based Christy White Associates after a previous auditor mistakenly informed the district that the schedule was compliant.
Paly is required by the state to provide 64,800 minutes of instructional time in the academic year. Last year, the high school was short 535 minutes, or just under nine hours, according to a report from Christy White Associates. Paly was improperly including zero period, a 50-minute, early morning, optional period during which only physical education is now offered, in its minutes count.
The new auditor worked directly with Paly Principal Adam Paulson, as well as Gunn High School Principal Kathie Laurence, this summer "to ensure that instructional time was properly calculated, without exceptions."
Paly's schedule no longer has some of the features that were championed by the committee that developed it over many months last year, chiefly later start times and greater flexibility for students and staff. Paly had planned to move its start time from 8:15 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. on alternating days, which aligns with an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that no secondary schools start earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Under the revised schedule, school will start daily at 8:20 a.m. A block schedule with 90-minute periods will rotate on "odd" and "even" days. There is a 45-minute tutorial period at the end of even days. In consultation with the state Department of Education, the auditor determined that tutorial, as a required period during which students are under certificated staff supervision, counts as instructional time regardless of when it is scheduled during the day. (In the committee's originally proposed schedule, it was moved into the middle of the school day, as is practice at Gunn.)
The state is set to take up the "broader topic" of tutorial at a future attendance meeting, the auditor report states.
Christy White Associates determined that InFocus, a 10-minute period for the student-produced news broadcast, and blended learning count as instructional time given students are under the direct supervision of certificated staff.
The auditor notes that the firm was not asked to render an opinion on the high school's instructional time, writing without further detail that "had we performed additional procedures, other matters might have come to our attention that would have been reported to you."
Under the new schedule, there is still no seven-period day, which was eliminated in response to student and parent complaints about the excessive work and stress it caused.
Staff will be given time to collaborate during a 45-minute slot at the end of even days.
Paly parent Kathy Jordan, who is running for a seat on the Board of Education this fall, has requested the school board formally review the new schedule at a meeting. She questions the validity of counting tutorial as instructional time, "given many students decide to miss the period and either come to school late or go home early," as well as InFocus, during which students aren't receiving direct academic instruction from teachers.
"As a parent and an advocate, I think it's the school board's responsibility to weigh in," she wrote in an email on Monday to the board and new Superintendent Don Austin. Board President Ken Dauber replied that he, Austin and Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza, who together make up the board's agenda-setting committee, would discuss her request.
Christy White Associates also found Gunn's bell schedule to be compliant for this year, with 929 minutes in excess of the state minimum.
Gunn discovered last spring that its schedule was 23 hours short of the state requirement. The shortage was due to numerous special schedules, such as for standardized testing or finals, and a lack of accountability to the impact of those schedules on overall minutes, according to then-principal Denise Herrmann.