Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

January 23, 2014

A new approach

High school schedule to be built from scratch

By Dustin Luca

---- — It’s back to the drawing board for school leaders and volunteers fleshing out a new class schedule format for Andover High School.

After months of work, a group of four teachers, four school district administrators and two parents charged with putting together a new schedule for Andover High School is looking to take a different approach, according to Assistant Superintendent Nancy Duclos.

Their work had been focused on studying what other districts around the state, including Acton, Lexington, Lincoln-Sudbury, Natick and North Andover, have in place for their high schools, Duclos said. But the team didn’t find what it was looking for.

“We did visits. We really did our due diligence before we came to the point where, ‘You know what? None of these are feeling good. None of these are hitting the mark,’” Duclos said. “We’re going to try to design our own.”

In the meantime, the school will continue under a four-block, three-by-three teaching schedule — where teachers teach three courses per semester, as established in the current labor contract.

The process for a new schedule moves forward next Friday, Jan. 31, when representatives of all the high school’s departments will meet following an early-release day for students to share their schedule needs content-wise with program advisers, Duclos said.

“A math course might need something very different than an English course,” she said. “By content area, what is it you would like your schedule to do?”

Then, the high school’s Parent Advisory Council will bring parents and students together for a focus group on Monday, Feb. 3, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the high school. Duclos said parents, students and teachers will work in small groups to come up with ideas on what schedule format best fits Andover High.

The hope is to have a recommendation no later than November. Then, the Andover Education Association and School Committee would meet to “impact bargain” the recommended proposal, Duclos said.

A new high school schedule format was the root cause of contract talks between the teachers union and school officials stalling for 11/2 years between 2011 and 2012.

Duclos said the collaborative process this time around would help impact bargaining, since teachers will have played as pivotal a role in developing the schedule as administrators.

“We have strong, good people on the committee. There’s an overall sense of, ‘We will get this done, and we will find the best schedule,’” Duclos said. “We’ll present the schedule as a whole, knowing it was collaboratively done. The way in which it gets developed will put things into perspective.”

What the new schedule will look like remains to be seen. Duclos said the high school must maintain the state’s requirement that students complete 990 minutes of academics a year. A schedule with too many periods would have to take into account the considerable passing time required between classes, which would impact the time spent in academics, she said.

There would also be “the instructional impact that the length of a class period has,” Duclos said. “We’re trying to maintain opportunities for kids to really engage in their learning. You really can’t do that if you’re seeing kids for 45 minutes.”

There are some parameters of the schedule design that “are nonnegotiable,” Duclos said. Others are likely to come to light after teachers weigh in next week.

Beyond that, how many periods and blocks per day, or even when school will open and close, remains up in the air, she said.

“That’s part of our discovery process,” she said.