HOLCOMB — Holcomb High School will take its first step to a potentially major schedule change next week with a two-day pilot of a flexible schedule that is designed to give students more freedom.
Jason Johnson, HHS principal, presented examples of a new schedule to the Holcomb USD 363 Board of Education at its meeting Monday, breaking down the ins and outs of the school’s first pilot test of the modified schedule. This week, students will build their alternate schedules, and on Monday and Tuesday, the school will test the format out for the first time.
The flexible schedule, inspired by similar structures at Liberal and Dighton high schools, is modeled after a college schedule, with blocks of classes of different lengths surrounded by free periods.
Students would be able to build their schedule around core classes, available in larger, longer, lecture-hall like settings or smaller, shorter, more traditional classes, shorter electives and stretches of “personal learning time,” (PLT) Johson told the board.
Classes would be blocked out over several days and at different lengths depending on the size, structure and subject of the class. The tactic made extra time during the day for the PLT blocks, free periods where students can seek help in certain subjects, study for classes, take additional online classes, take college courses at Garden City Community College or pursue internships, among other options, Johnson said.
As students get older, PLT takes up more of their schedules, allowing them to gradually have more control over them, Johnson said.
Johnson said he and his brother, HHS Athletic Director Jerry Johson, have interviewed students over the past several weeks, asking what they liked, didn’t like and wanted from the school. The students said they felt like they were just being told where to go and what to do.
The new schedule would allow students to build their own schedules with more options, Johnson said. Classes being offered on alternating days meant they would be less restrained by overlapping classes, opening them up to more electives, and PLT time would give them responsibility, flexibility and agency over their own learning, he said.
"One, it will prepare them for that college. And two … not every day and everybody’s job is exactly the same … Any job right now has flexibility and choice in their day and what they’re supposed to do, so that’s what we’re trying to replicate during the day. And it’s a time management responsibility," Johnson said.
The schedule has a history of growing pains. Liberal and Dighton high schools have had logistical issues, such as taking attendance and adequately preparing teachers, and six teachers left Liberal High School during the transition, Johnson told the board. But HHS, smaller than Liberal and larger than Dighton, would learn from their struggles and be a good fit for the program, he said.
He said faculty and staff had shown support for the change, but were hesitant about what it would look like in full force. Teachers saw the traditional structure wasn't connecting with students, and as a result, students were not putting in the effort that they used to, Johnson said. If the school moved forward with the transition, they may lose teachers, Johnson said, but that was also a risk if they continued with the current, ineffective schedule.
In January, administration will receive feedback from teachers and students regarding the December pilot days. If the response is 70 to 85 percent positive, Johnson said, the school will hold another pilot period in May, possibly a week long. If the response from that test is again between 70 and 85 percent positive, they will undergo a year-long instructor training process before making the change.
"There is some hesitation into what it will look like full boar, and so that's why we're going to really take that longer approach to get to our success of putting it in full time because we want to be sound instructionally and we want to make sure teachers feel comfortable jumping into that deep end of the pool versus just going in without any help or support," Johnson said.
The school may go for the change, or it might not, Johnson said. It depends on the students.
"We want to find the avenue that's going to help our students benefit the most. If that means changing the schedule, it does. If it doesn't, it doesn't," he said. "We just want to do what's best for kids at the end of the day..."
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