Many Berkeley High School (BHS) students and staff are concerned about the current bell schedule, including its impact on students’ mental health and learning. To address these concerns, BHS is currently planning an updated schedule which, if approved by the school board, will go into effect next year. On January 13, the bell schedule redesign committee held a family town hall to gather feedback regarding the proposed schedule.
Harrison Blatt, a vice principal at BHS and the administrative liaison for the redesign, began the town hall by explaining why the administration feels there is a need for a new schedule.
“We are asking ourselves some hard questions,” Blatt said. “What things are coming up for our children that we are not currently supporting at BHS?”
Blatt listed several student needs that may not be met by the current schedule. He said that the current schedule at BHS does not allow time to build social emotional support into the school day. In addition, teachers have expressed that they struggle to facilitate deep learning within the current 58 minute class periods. He also said he had received feedback that having six periods every day is unsustainable and exhausting for both students and staff.
Blatt shared changes that the bell schedule redesign committee hopes will address these problems. One is the possible implementation of a block schedule, meaning that students would not have all of their classes everyday, but instead have fewer classes for longer amounts of time. The total instructional time every day would not change.
In comparison to the schedule used during remote learning, it is unlikely that a “term schedule” would be used. Students would most likely still have all of their classes for the entire year, but they might not have all of their classes on any given day of the week.
A block schedule would support the addition of a flex or advisory period, a block of time used for social-emotional support, getting homework done, remediation, and diving deeper into academic subjects. According to Blatt, other benefits of the proposed schedule could be increased professional development for teachers and staff, more project-based learning, and longer time periods between classes.
Blatt also shared the timeline for the redesign, explaining the steps that have already been taken to begin this process and those that are still upcoming.
The bell schedule redesign committee — made up of teachers, counselors, and administrators — was formed earlier this school year. The town hall was a part of their January “listen and learn” period. In February, the committee will present a proposal to the school board, which will be decided on sometime in March. If it is approved, scheduling details will be finalized, and staff will receive training between February and June. As of now, the committee does not have an official schedule to propose.
As Blatt opened up the meeting to public comment, some main concerns that emerged about the possibility of a block schedule were that it might be difficult for students to focus in longer classes, and that students need stability instead of an overwhelming change. Another common worry was that the block schedule would lead to the end of late start Mondays, although Blatt did not say so.
“I want to request that we not implement this [block schedule] in the short term,” said the parent of a BHS freshman, whose Zoom name only read Anna. “With everything that’s going on with the pandemic, this is just not the time for this kind of change. It’s pretty amazing that you guys are even keeping the ship afloat, so I would suggest that we not rock the boat.”
Another repeated concern was that teachers would not have enough time to rework their curriculum before next fall and would not receive training on how to best utilize the longer class periods.
Despite these concerns, BHS history teacher and member of the bell schedule redesign committee Amanda Toporek shared data that indicated that last year, over 77 percent of BHS teachers supported a change in the schedule or felt that a change was necessary for the school next year. In addition, another 14 percent of teachers said that they did not feel strongly either way, leaving less than 10 percent of teachers who support the current schedule.
In response to concerns that teachers would be overwhelmed with redesigning their curriculum, Toporek said that she regularly redesigns her lessons anyway.
“I rework my curriculum every year, whether or not the bell schedule changes,” said Toporek. “We tailor our lessons to our students, to the moment, to everything that’s going on. We’ve made major changes to curriculum in the past two years in a row, and we’ve done it because we’ve had to. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful opportunity to do it because we want to, because we’re making a change to the structure that we believe in?”
Toporek acknowledged that it would take strong teacher commitment to make the new schedule work, but said that she hoped to get more people on board by showing them evidence that demonstrates how this change could benefit everyone.
This data collection will be happening as part of the current “listen and learn” stage of the plan. The committee may hold another English town hall to accommodate those who wished to speak but were not able to due to time constraints. Staff, students, and their families, will have additional opportunities to provide feedback through surveys and discussion-based conversations.