The Chagrin Falls middle and high school campus could be looking at both block and eight-period scheduling for the 2021-2022 academic year, a blend of new and traditional models for the students’ daily structure.

Chagrin Falls High School Principal Monica Asher and middle school Principal Laila Discenza explained to the Board of Education last week that, after mixed feedback from staff, students and parents weighing the pros and cons, the administrators determined a hybrid model incorporating both the traditional eight-period schedule and the campus’ current block schedule would be the best option for a balance of benefits between the two.

“After a very challenging year full of a lot of change, there is certainly an inclination to go back to normal,” Ms. Asher said of the districts return to the direction of a more traditional schedule. She added, however, that the district has also learned valuable lessons this year as a result of constant scheduling changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and did not want to leave those lessons behind.

She said the school staff members were eager to dive into the planning for the middle and high school scheduling. “We are really, really lucky to work with teachers who, despite their many successes, are never satisfied, and they constantly want to find ways to be better and do more,” she said, “and I think this [plan] is certainly a representation of that.

“We want to foster innovation and find ways to be more flexible and creative with the students,” she continued, “and we recognize throughout this process that if we simply went back to the old schedule, without giving our lessons an honest look, we would continue to face the same constraints and problems that we faced prior to the pandemic, and that was really unacceptable for us.”

For block days, benefits include that students reported feeling less stress with reduced homework load per day as well as opportunities for more labs, authentic learning and extended support and an open campus for upperclassmen. Challenges included teachers not having the ability to touch base with students five days a week, negative impacts a flexible schedule could have on students with executive dysfunctioning skills or attention and the need to provide professional development to staff.

For eight-period days, benefits were that teachers could see their students every day, less fatigue per class with shorter class periods, consistency of a daily schedule and the district’s demonstrated success of this model. Identified challenges were lost instructional time to transitions between classes, students may feel overwhelmed with responsibilities for every class every day, less time for labs and authentic learning experiences and open campus and flexible learning models may not be possible.

Ms. Asher brought the school board’s attention to a survey the district rolled out earlier this year to parents about their experiences with learning during the pandemic as well as conversations in which teachers had engaged their students for their thoughts.

“Many students talked about, kind of, the college aspect of [block schedules],” she said. “We have such a high population of students that go on to post-secondary education. A lot of [students] said it gives them more responsibility and freedom with an open campus.”

Students also reported feeling less overwhelmed with the block scheduling, and parents agreed the move to block scheduling prepared their students for life after high school, according to feedback.

Teachers also addressed that they noticed reduced stress in their students with more manageable homework loads, more flexibility in learning models and increased intervention opportunities with this year’s schedule.

“Looking at the pros and cons, what we did is we really ended up leaning toward a combined model,” Ms. Asher said, explaining that some days of the week will be in the block model and others would be in the eight-period model. “So, really trying to get the best of both worlds here.”

Benefits of this combined model, she said, include the opportunity for extension, labs and creativity; being able to maintain frequent contact with students four days a week; flexibility with offerings; an open campus being more manageable for students on block days; the reduction of each model’s cons by taking advantage of both of their pros; the opportunity to explore both models in a COVID-19-free environment; and daily advisory.

She said the district looked at having eight-period days Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays with block periods on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Under this model, the eight-period days would have 46 instructional minutes per class, and the block days would have 90 instructional minutes per class.

“You’ve done a lot of work and clearly [leveraged] some great learning that’s happened, taking the positive out of what we experienced that past year,” board member Sharon Broz said, but cautioned the administrators to avoid doing too much at one time. “I think everybody also needs to catch their breath.”

Mrs. Broz suggested starting the blended learning approach toward the second quarter to give students and parents time to adjust to the return to school and making sure the website clearly spells out the days’ schedules for each building.

Board members Lori Bendall and Mary Kay O’Toole also commended the administration for the work they put into developing the hybrid plan.

Superintendent Robert Hunt said the district had discussed the potential for block or hybrid schedules for the high school years ago, but the pandemic really forced the district’s hand in this, resulting in their eventual growth.

“Everyone, in full disclosure, knows that this is going to be a learning process,” he said. “As we move forward, it will have to tweak and change.”

With direction on what the potential blended bell schedule could look like next year, Dr. Hunt said the district will be able to get more perspective from the teachers to provide to the board at a later date.

“I think it’s a huge step forward for the district with tremendous opportunity moving forward,” Dr. Hunt said.

Sam joined the Times in 2019 and covers several communities and schools in the Chagrin Valley and Geauga County. She also oversees the features/community events and the website. She earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Kent State University.

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