After two test runs and majority student and staff sign-off, Holcomb High School will take on a blended traditional and flexible, or “flex mod,” schedule next year with the hopes to transition to the new structure in full by the 2020-21 school year.
“We’re still going to be in a test next year, just a year-long test,” said HHS Principal Jason Johnson.
The new, flexible schedule is a fluid structure modeled after college schedules, trading out bells for block periods spread out over several days. Classes are offered in long and short blocks on alternating days and segments of unstructured “personal learning time,” essentially free periods meant for homework, tutorials or additional electives, are scattered in the space between.
The school tested the flex mod schedule for two days in December and a week in March, both of which were received favorably by students and staff — about 73% of returned student surveys and 85% of staff surveys rated the experience positively, Johnson said.
Because of this, students and staff were asked to choose between two new schedule structures for next year: either a more traditional eight-period day with one period set aside for personal learning time, or a blended schedule that would alternate between the traditional and flex mod schedule throughout the week.
The response was “overwhelmingly” in favor of the blended model, Johnson said and the model will take effect this fall. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will be dedicated to the common schedule and Tuesdays and Thursdays to the new one, everyday operating without bells, he said.
The mixed-up schedule will ideally keep the school’s day-to-day routine “fresh,” Johnson said, and Superintendent Scott Myers said he was eager for a structure that will push students to be more independent and accountable during and after high school.
“So many young people, as they leave our school system … go out in the world and nobody’s watching over them anymore…” Myers said. “I’d much rather people go through the struggles of learning self-responsibility and, I call them success skills, at a younger age so they’re not learning them on the fly at (age) 20, 21, 22, and then really have to suffer the consequences.”
During the most recent batch of surveys, Johnson said, some teachers were concerned that some classes and personal learning time blocks were too short. In response, the schedule design team stretched core classes from 40 to 60 or 80 minutes and personal learning time to 40-minute blocks equaling one to two hours a day, depending on the grade level.
From what Myers had seen, most students, staff and school board members he had spoken with are “cautiously excited,” interested in the possibilities of the new schedule but wary of the stumbles and growing pains of change.
The transition will come with a shift in instructional methods at the school, Johnson said, shifting student assignments to project and research based learning instead of worksheets they could easily copy during personal learning time.
Staff and administration will check in every six weeks during the 2019-20 school year to see how students and staff are responding to the change, Johnson said. At any time, it is possible to either transition to a full flex mod schedule during the year, or revert back to a full traditional schedule, he said.
If the year-long test goes well, the school will transition to a full flex mod schedule for the 2020-21 school year, Johnson said. But Myers said the school could also come out of the test with an entirely new schedule structure, built on adjustments and compromise.
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