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Paly changes fall schedule to allow longer classes

Original post made on Apr 8, 2010

Palo Alto High School this fall will move to a daily schedule featuring longer class periods with fewer classes each day, Principal Jacquie McEvoy announced Wednesday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, April 8, 2010, 9:12 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2010 at 9:39 am

Ummm...this article is seriously lacking. Why? Because you might want to mention that Paly ALREADY does block scheduling, two days a week. Sounds like they're going from two/week to four/week. Big difference over going from 0.

I'm unsure if this will really help stress levels. I know when I was at Paly, I LOVED the late start days, but sometimes 90 minutes of one class could be really excruciatingly long. But for some classes, it definitely allowed for you to get a lot more done.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 8, 2010 at 9:58 am

This decision concerns me. First, I understand that staff is not universally behind this move, and that some disciplines are really going to struggle to work within this scheduling. Some subjects just go better when taught nearly daily in shorter blocks.

Also, as I understand it, this new schedule comes with a universal 8:15 start time; we lose the late Thursday start that made a HUGE difference in my son's life last year. In an era where kids are so stressed, letting them have a day to recoup and sleep in is so important. I'm glad the start time is a little later than this year, but really REALLY wish they had preserved the late start time on Thursday.

I see that Po Bronson is coming in May to Paly. He can cite reams of data about why late start times are so crucial for teens. It's in his book Nurture Shock. I hope we can revisit the schedule and reinstate the later start time at least one day a week (or ideally, MORE!). Biologically, teens' systems work differently than adults or younger kids, and they really need the opportunity to sleep later.

Posted by interested
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2010 at 10:18 am

This seems like an irresponsible move considering that the way teachers are teaching will have to change and cost the district 3 professional development days for the Paly staff. Does it really reduce stress or does it benefit one group at the expense of another group?

Posted by Sue
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2010 at 10:30 am

For this decision, Paly provided ample time and opportunity for students and parents to provide feedback. I hope you have had your online survey filled out and have your voice heard.

While I personally don't like the decision, as long as the decision was made based on staff/students/parents' input, I'd accept it.

Posted by Mama
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 8, 2010 at 10:32 am

Here is a link to the Bell Schedule Concepts which were considered:
Web Link

The students of Paly were surveyed - what were the results?

The article states that Paly is already on a two-day block schedule. What is not explained is the positives of moving to a four-day block schedule. 90 minutes can be grueling for ADD and sleep-deprived students (even with the later start, students will be sleep-deprived). The 50 minutes at least allowed students to get up and walk outside.

Thank goodness it won't be 90 minutes of lecturing. But the total time spent in class over 2 days will be 180 as opposed to 200 hours (50 minute class).

How will this schedule reduce student stress? Will teachers allow students to work on their homework for half an hour? Or will they simply assign more homework since students have two days to complete it?

Posted by Biker
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2010 at 11:02 am

My daughter goes to Paly. Last night when I told her about the decision, she was very happy. Her reason was that there would be less opportunities for teachers to assign homeworks which are due the next day. This way it will be easier for her to mange here homeworks which should result in less stress.

Posted by interested
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2010 at 11:03 am

I have not seen any convincing argument that stress is reduced with a block schedule. I think the ADD and sleep deprived students and their parents are so stressed out trying to keep up that they did not have the time or strength to join the 30 person committee. What about the kids who need exposure to concepts and methods as many days/week as possible? These students will suffer and their stress level will increase. Has Denise Clark Pope even considered these types of students?

Posted by Paul
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2010 at 11:20 am

I feel sorry for these kids who will have to deal with this weird schedule. Block periods may work very well for classes that are not based mostly on book learning, such as laboratory science, theater, physical education, and practical arts classes like wood/metal working, but they will NOT work well at all for traditional book-learning classes like Math, English, and history, unless you really happen to be one of those nerdy bookworm types who learns best and most enjoyably solely from reading and writing.

I considered myself a good student, but when I went to college, I still clearly remember the extreme drudgery of the longer English classes I had to take. Most other classes were either 3x a week for 50 minutes or 2x a week for 75 minutes, and the practical "hands on" or lab classes were usually taught in 4-hour blocks, which worked quite well.

But for the first levels of college English, I had to choose either 75 minute classes 3x a week or the absolute hell of 100 minute classes twice a week. It was the worst class I ever took, and I can't tell you how glad I was when I finally finished the damn course and got it off my schedule. It's not that the professor was bad or that I didn't learn what I needed, just that it was so LOOONNG and I remember so many people were always looking at the clock constantly in those 100 minute classes with nothing to really hold their focus. Most teens simply don't have that level of attention span, I don't think, and they were all 18 and 19 year olds.

Thankfully, there were additional elective writing courses that stuck to the more reasonable timeframes I could use for graduation writing credits.

Posted by Gun Parent
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm

What about Gunn. The district things that Gunn students are not sleep deprived, or that they are super students? Do not they see what is going on on the school. I guess parents have to raise voices in order for them to know what is best for our students.

Posted by Koa
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm

For everyone complaining how their kid can't make it through a "grueling" 90 minute class, how will they be expected to make it through a 480 minute workday?

Posted by misha
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm

While there are pro's and con's for any approach, I applaud the leadership at Paly for seriously considering a change, for involving students, parents, and teachers in the evaluation of options, and finally for actually MAKING A CHANGE for the sake of better student health and well-being!

Posted by interested
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Late start time and 90 minute classes are totally unrelated. Late start time would be wonderful at every school to catch those kids who need the extra sleep. Block schedule has nothing to do with that at all.

Posted by Sue
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I agree that many subjects like math and language benefit from more frequent exposure rather than longer and fewer classes. As for the issues of "real world" I think high school kids are still kids and will develop the attention span and maturity to focus for longer seminars as they get older. the solution is not to stultify them starting at age 13!

Posted by Pete
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

@koa: you think teenagers who are age 14 should already have the stamina of a grown adult? Why not throw the preschoolers into elementary school since they eventually have to attend anyway? Teen years are full of growth spurts, social & physical adjustment and they should not be treated as mature adults. Realize that a career or job is a chosen path and the person can quit if uninterested while certain subjects in school are mandatory.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2010 at 1:40 pm

I graduated from Gunn yrs ago - their block schedule was fine and no one ever complained. Yes, competition was high then, too.

Posted by paly alum mom
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 8, 2010 at 2:56 pm

Interested - Block scheduling DOES affect the start time. Following each period, the students get a 5 minute passing time. For seven periods, this totals 30 minutes - five minutes following each of the first six periods. With fewer classes, this is reduced and school can start later.
Does it affect stress? Of course. It's less stressful to prepare for three or four classes each night, than six or seven.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

@ Concerned: Right now the Thursday 8:45 start is only for the fall semester. In spring the Thursday start time is 7:50. So your point is only half-baked. 8:15 splits the difference for everyday...better overall.

Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 8, 2010 at 7:51 pm

Just like anything school related, it comes down to the teacher. A good teacher will structure the block period with a variety of activities making the class a period for exciting learning, longer projects, etc. A mediocre (often well meaning) or simply bad teacher (which encompasses too many teachers) will lecture, give the kids time to do other homework, show movies unrelated or barely related to the subject, just like what happens now on block days.

Plus - less classes to prepare for each day
Minus - MUCH more potential for a very long, boring class.

And as far as comparing it to the work day of an adult, most adults can stretch, take a bathroom or coffee break, etc. within a 90 minute time period. Kids have no control over the time in the classroom.

Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 8, 2010 at 8:02 pm

I cannot count the number of times my student said his classes watched movies on block days. Better get the DVD's lined up.

Posted by fred
a resident of Nixon School
on Apr 9, 2010 at 10:04 am

I wonder what the stress levels will be when students and parents realize that there is now a new required study period in the new proposed schedule where attendance will be taken.....that's right a new required about reducing the way, if this decision has been made, why can't the school circulate the new starting times and completed schedule? It's because they haven't thought it through and don't even have an actual schedule to share with parents and students. Nice planning. Let's change the schedule--we'll tell you what we've decided later. Oh yeah, since when do 30 teachers decide policy? Some leadership.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 9, 2010 at 2:03 pm

something must be missing from your post? what stress could a study period cause? Also, did you not receive the email request to fill out your/your child's preference for the new bell schedule?

Posted by Yes, we did
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 9, 2010 at 2:35 pm

We completed the survey but the question is: did it matter? Seems PAUSD staff makes their decisions based upon what they want. Parent didn't want Everyday Math and it didn't matter.

Posted by Gunn Grad
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I loved having rotating classes. It was nice to have a day "off" from a class, even the ones I liked. One hour seemed just right, too -- not too long, but long enough to get into things.

I wish Paly good luck with their new schedule.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2010 at 8:36 am

I am anonymous/Duvenenck/St. Francis #1 (someone decided to also use my customary handle)-
and I can assure you we never watched movies in block period at Gunn. It was a much better schedule than the current PALY schedule (I had kids who attended PALY and I was surprised to discover how different PALY and Gunn are, including the schedules)

Posted by Wondering Parent
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2010 at 12:18 pm

anonymous/Duveneck/St. Francis #1, can you list the ways in which PALY and Gunn are different (or give the pros and cons of each, in your opinion)?

Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm

That's like touching the third rail!
There's no fear of repercussions since my kids are beyond all that. Still, I will stick with generalities. They finished at an international boarding school. All I will say is...I attended Gunn (a moderately-while-ago), found it generally inspiring, and I never happened to set foot on PALY during those years. Fast forward...I was surprised when my kids attended PALY to learn PALY is different from Gunn. I had assumed more similarity since the two HS are in the same district.
These schools are entirely different. I would recommend looking at a variety of educational options for HS, including private. Doesn't matter where you've been previously- private or public.
Another angle is: things aren't static in, the principal/leadership makes a huge difference...and there are so many elements that make up school culture, beyond the curriculum, like how many (valid) clubs/activities are offered/what variety/emphasis; the behavior/attitudes of the students; school schedule; whether there are certain things emphasized at a HS you care next to nothing about (like the PALY team sports emphasis, for example, for our family...when we wished for something else to be empasized...) and I'm sure others have their own angles.

Posted by student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 10, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Being a student at Paly I was very happy to hear that they chose the 4 block day schedule. Although the communication at Paly between the administration and the students/parents is terrible I'm overall happy with the final decision. If a teacher is not good with wisely using a block period time that is their poor teaching. I've found block days to be very helpful because it's many times hard to fully complete a lesson in 50 minutes. My friends at schools with 4/5 block days a week find it much easier to prioritize and less stressful. A mandatory tutorial period is great, it'll allow students to have time to review their homework and make sure they understand what is being asked before they're home and out of possible contact from their teachers. I've found the different start and end times of the school day very frustrating because of the inconsistent schedule. If a child is sleep deprived or has ADD/ADHD and the this schedule will be too difficult for them then maybe Paly is not the best choice for them, public school doesn't work for everyone. Also just because Paly and Gunn are in the same district, why would that make them very similar?

Posted by student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 10, 2010 at 10:49 pm

I did wish though that Paly would keep 7th unblocked so that 2 or 3 sport student athletes could use that as a prep/free period to minimize missed class. Paly argued that classes which needed a block period would suffer from that, umm hello Paly just don't schedule those classes for seventh period, really?

Posted by Alumni
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 11, 2010 at 1:23 am

As a Paly Alumni, I personally feel sorry for the students of Paly regarding this schedule. While, it would definitely make things easier for lab based classes such as AP Chem, it will certainly make things extremely harder for classes such as math. If as one of the parents suggested, the teachers would have less opportunity to give homework, then I guarantee you, we will no longer have such a high AP score average because the way to learn math is through practice aka HW. What I believe is that instead the math teachers will probably teach double lessons and give double hw each block period making things way more stressful on the student. I'm not sure if many parents have knowledge of this, but the classes at Paly are much more rigorous than at many other HS across the nation. I am currently at a UC and I guarantee you, things are EXTREMELY easy here compared to at Paly. In fact, from what I learned in one month in my BC Calc class at Paly was equivalent to almost a full quarter here.
I will assure you, with a later start time students will all sleep later. Just ask college students. Personally, I believe that the schedule as is, is a good balance between an extended class to give teachers more time for certain subjects and 50min daily classes that enable a teacher to teach lessons on different days and lower the mental strain on students.

Posted by Wondering Parent
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 7:53 am

Thanks, anonymous, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood. Our child was in a private kindergarten, then a good public school for four years, and is now in a very good private school in another area. We are planning to relocate and are looking seriously at Gunn and Paly, as well as the Menlo School and Harker. Sports are a non-issue--none would be fine!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2010 at 8:28 am

The sports issue is easy - start later in the day. Then you don't miss any classes.

Posted by Gunn Sr
a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:46 pm

Try Gunn's.

Our rotating block schedule is the best. An hour is long enough (can't imagine 90 min). I go to five of my six classes a day, and on the days when my prep is first, I don't have to be at school until 9. Genius.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2010 at 10:02 am

I hope they get the turn left only times changes at the Churchill/Alma crossing as this is the only thing that prevents bike riders having accidents from traffic when the red light changes and the bikes and pedestrians flood across Alma in the fifteen minutes before school starts.

Posted by Gigi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2010 at 3:00 am

Wouldnt it be great if someday the school day schedule for high school (teen) students was actually set with there best interest. Teens are NOT morning people (biologically). Why not have a late start for school and a later dismisle time? Say 9-4 or 10-5. Its just a wild guess, but I would bet that teens would be more AWAKE than they are now for the 7:50 start time. Oh well,I guessanythings gotta be better than that. Ug. Im sure that start time was set at the best interest of the Administrators NOT the students.

Oh ya, wow 90 minute classes. No comment.

Posted by Mike
a resident of Community Center
on May 11, 2010 at 8:44 pm

It's funny when parents argue about what's least stressful for their kids.

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