The administration has decided to change what is currently an optional, sparsely attended Thursday afternoon tutorial period into a mandatory "flex" class after brunch. In the fall, this time will be used once a month for freshmen and sophomores to learn a new social-emotional curriculum, including allowing students to meet with teacher-mentors as part of the new Titan Connect program. During the other weeks, students will use the time for academic purposes, such as to get extra help from teachers or catch up on homework. In the 2018-19 school year, this mandatory class will expand to include juniors and, the following year, seniors.
This will double the amount of time students are spending in Titan Connect, Gunn's version of Palo Alto High School's teacher-adviser program, Herrmann told the Weekly.
Research and other schools' experience implementing social-emotional learning shows it is most effective in the middle of the school day, rather than at the end or in the morning, Herrmann said. Only about 10 to 15 percent of students currently attend tutorial in the afternoons, according to the school.
The mandatory class will also help Gunn address its failure to provide sufficient, annual instructional minutes as mandated by the state. In February, Herrmann discovered that the school is 23 hours short of that requirement. The shortage was due to numerous special schedules, such as for standardized testing or finals and a lack of realization of the instructional deficit those caused, Herrmann said.
Paly also is short on instructional minutes by about 37 hours, according to Principal Kim Diorio. Paly's own bell-schedule committee, convened in the fall, is set to make a recommendation for a revised schedule later this spring. The committee is considering adding more time to advisory and a later start time, among other changes, Diorio said.
At Gunn, students said they recognize the need for a different schedule and fully support the addition of social-emotional learning but have criticized the process by which the new schedule was developed.
More than 500 students signed a petition that proposed a "compromise" schedule, urging the school to address a "large trust gap" between students and the administration.
"We, the students of Gunn, do not feel that our voices are being represented when decisions are made," the petition states. "Not only do we feel unrepresented, but we also see dysfunction in the decision-making process itself."
The petition decries the fact that a Creative Scheduling Committee, whose 2015 recommendation ultimately led the school to shift to a new block schedule, has met infrequently this year and with little participation from students. There are about six teachers, one parent and three students still meeting as part of that committee, Herrmann said.
Despite its name, however, that group was not charged with making the recommendation on this year's schedule change, Herrmann said. The decision was made by the school's wellness team, which includes school counselors, wellness teachers on special assignment, the school's wellness coordinator and other teachers and administrators.
The wellness team has been working since November to find a bell schedule that would provide regular, dedicated time for social-emotional learning, which was recommended by a districtwide committee in February.
The administration held one informational student forum in January and again last week, days before Herrmann was expected to announce the new schedule, to solicit input. The school also sent a survey out to students and staff this month with four bell schedule options; the results indicated a "strong preference" for the one the administration ultimately decided to put in place, according to Herrmann.
Worried about the lack of student input, Gunn junior Advait Arun, who co-authored the online petition, conducted his own survey. Out of 373 respondents from all the grades, most said they prefer the current schedule and did not want it to change. The survey also found that 60 percent said they don't trust the administration to listen to their voice. This number increases in the higher grades, Arun found.
In a separate survey conducted by Gunn's student government body, many of the 88 randomly selected participants also urged against making another schedule change.
Arun said moving forward, more important than the schedule itself is the process by which future decisions are made at Gunn.
"If the petition is not going to work, so be it," he said. "I want to bridge the trust gap."
Some students are still smarting over other actions they felt neglected their input, including two years ago when zero-period academic classes were eliminated and this year when Gunn implemented a new monitoring software on school-issued laptops.
Arun has been elected to serve as Gunn's school board representative next year and said he hopes to use that role to improve communication between students, administrators and the school board.
He also hopes students who opposed the schedule change nonetheless will help make the new social-emotional curriculum a success.
Herrmann said she has met with every student who has asked to talk with her about the bell schedule. Her focus, however, is on the pedagogical arguments for social-emotional learning and the long-term impact of rolling that initiative out in the right way.
"Students are not education experts; they're expressing their views from what they value, and I completely understand that, but as the leader of a public school, I'm charged to use evidence-based practices, and sometimes that's not aligned with what some of the current students want," she said.
"Sometimes it's not about the popular choice, it's what is going to make the biggest difference for the most students over the course of the next three to five years," she added.
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