April 01, 2020

Lawrence High teachers back schedule change

FAIRFIELD – Teachers at Lawrence High School have endorsed the idea of switching to longer classes.

Staff members who have studied the concept now must draft a proposal to send to Superintendent Dean Baker and the SAD 49 board early next year.

“Based on what we’ve seen, it would be a tremendously positive step for Lawrence High School,” Assistant Principal Steve Ouellette said Tuesday.

For about a year, teachers and administrators on an exploratory committee have visited schools throughout the state that have shifted from standard 40-minute classes.

Some of the schools hold 80-minute classes on alternating days. Others run semester schedules that divide the year into two halves, with just four classes per day.

In early November, after several presentations by the committee, teachers voted 41-15 to create a proposal, Ouellette said. In a separate question, a majority of them favored a semester-style schedule.

Block scheduling, as the practice is known, has become a popular trend in education. More than half of Maine’s high schools have adopted it.

At Lawrence High, with about 810 students, staff members last year formed a committee of seven teachers and two administrators to explore the idea. Members since have visited schools in Rockland, Brunswick, Turner, Bucksport and Portland that offer four 80-minute classes per day.

Committee members say such a system would reduce disruptions, allowing more time for discussion and hands-on lessons.

They also point out that reduced class loads, under a semester system, would give students and teachers more time to focus on subjects in greater depth.

Most classes would cover a year’s worth of material in half a year. Students, for example, might take math in the fall and English in the spring.

Subjects requiring continuity, such as foreign languages, could run for a full year.

“With the schools we visited … they were able to work things out,” Ouellette said. “We feel that we can make the schedule work.”

Jeff Jewett, a veteran history teacher, said one of his frustrations with the current schedule of 40-minute classes is a lack of time for class projects.

“The big frustration is if you’re going to do some type of re-enactment … you just get set up and then the bell rings,” Jewett, a member of the exploratory committee, said Tuesday afternoon.

“A lot of teachers end up saying, ‘I’m not going to do that type of activity,’ and go back to lectures,” he said.

In Maine, high school juniors take standardized tests in March of every year. One problem, Jewett said, is that Lawrence students often don’t study some portions of American history that are included in the Maine Educational Assessments until their senior years.

A semester-style schedule would allow teachers and students to tackle topics normally covered in two years in just one year, giving time to prepare for the state tests.

Beyond that, Jewett sees a more practical side to the proposed change: Teachers would be more willing to assign in-depth projects – and students more willing to do them – if they had fewer courses to worry about at once.

“At the end of the year, you’d still have seen the same number of students,” Jewett said. “But at any one time, you’d see half that number.”

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