To maximize teacher/student work time and provide teachers the ability to support students more in their studies, the Skagway School District is looking at a change to how its school days are scheduled for grades 7-12.
Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran gave a presentation to the Skagway School Board on Feb. 21 regarding the schedule proposal.
Currently the school runs seven classes per day for 50 minutes each. This creates higher pressure and a greater homework load for students, according to Coughran.
“Because we have that limited time with kids every day, a lot of that work, a lot of achieving standards gets pushed to individual work,” he said.
The idea was to see if there was a way to increase the amount of time that teachers are able to work with students inside the school.
Monday-Thursday, students would attend 75-minute classes on core subjects, such as English, math, science and social studies.
“If you do the math on it, what it actually ends up being is an extra 50 minutes per week of instructional time that teachers have with students in the building in these core subjects,” Coughran said.
On Fridays, elective courses could take up four blocks of time for 95-minute classes. This would lend itself to project-based learning, according to Coughran, like vocational education courses or speech and debate. It would also work in office-hour, or study-session, type periods, where students could seek out additional help from their teachers within the school day.
Coughran said he worked on the schedule with the intent of not changing any of the graduation requirements. Students would still need 26 credits to graduate from Skagway.
“We hold our students to a really high standard,” Coughran said. “Those teachers that have come in the building that have taught in other places, that’s one of the things that they notice right off the bat is that we really hold our kids to a [high] standard.”
Coughran stressed that he wasn’t looking to change that, and added that high standard is what parents and the community expect from the school district.
Another change – which may sound like music to the students’ ears – is a change in the load of homework students receive.
“What I told student council was, ‘if you take anything away from this conversation, don’t take away that Dr. Coughran is eliminating homework in the high school, because that’s just not the case,’” Coughran said. “But the key would be that homework would be more purposeful, and perhaps the load would be less because they actually get the time to work with teachers in the classroom.”
Another concept being bandied about in the discussions of a schedule change is the addition of a zero hour.
“I know especially from teaching in the building several years ago that [the] time from 3:15-4 p.m. where students can come in and get the help that they need from teachers is sacred,” Coughran said. “One of the things that we’re seeing, one of the things that teachers voiced to me is that after-school time becomes fairly fragmented, because there’s a lot of activity after school.”
To help alleviate some of the burden this “frantic time” sees, Coughran said the start of the school day could be pushed back 20 minutes to 8:40 a.m. Teachers would be on-duty from 8-8:40 a.m., which in addition to the open time in the Friday schedule, could give students a chance to seek extra help should they need it.
Coughran said he would like to hear back from the community and the board on the proposal.
The superintendent had previously discussed the prototype schedule with several students, and at the Feb. 21 board meeting Student Council President Kiara Selmer gave some feedback from students.
“Most of the students were supportive, but there were a lot of questions,” Selmer said. “Some of those being how that [schedule] would affect traveling students, because with greater class time comes greater missed instruction time.”
Selmer said there was a suggestion that teachers find a way to record their classes for absent students and post the lectures online.
Overall Selmer said students are receptive to the idea of a new schedule, and the concept of a zero hour period. She echoed Cochran’s statement that the period after school is extremely hectic with meetings, and that a zero hour would enable them to meet with teachers.
The board members in attendance gave their thoughts on the schedule as well.
Board Member Jaime Bricker cautioned that while students in Skagway’s school have the opportunity for hands-on instruction, that is not the case when they leave. Failing to build independent working skills can be a downfall, Jaime said.
Board Member Darren Belisle agreed that homework is important for students, but added that once students hit high school, they are very busy with extracurricular activities.
“By the time they do DDF and sports and this and that, they’re doing homework at midnight,” Belisle said. “They’re not sleeping.”