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NKHS stuck between a block and a hard place

POULSBO — Weeks of discussion and debate over how the North Kitsap High School instructional schedule should look next year will come to fruition next week as North Kitsap’s school board will meet Thursday to decide its fate.

The NKHS instructional task force has recommended modifying the current four-class, semester-long block schedule by adding a slot for two, year-long “short” 55 minute classes, injecting flexibility into a current system critics say is too rigid.

However, the new schedule does not solve the school board’s mandated goal of meeting the statewide 150 class hours per credit.

The board will be left to decide Thursday whether it will pass a waiver to allow the high school to remain approximately 20 hours below the state standard for the 14th year in a row — something they vowed earlier this year not to grant again.

But NKHS principal Roy Herrera is optimistic that the board will see the work of the task force, the sacrifice of teachers and students and the new schedule’s innovation and creativity and choose to pass the waiver.

“If we go to (150 hours per credit), we’ll be doing what everybody else is doing,” Herrera said. “My prediction is that (the modified block) will be the model that all Washington schools will go to.”

If the board does not pass the waiver, the school will have no choice but to adopt a six-period, year-long class schedule, the only one NK can use to meet the state credit hour standard, Herrera said.

The directors have been adamant against passing a waiver, and will remain that way “until we see something that changes our mind,” said school board president Catherine Ahl.

The modified block would be an interim schedule to give the task force further time to develop a more flexible schedule with added “short” classes.

“This gives us more time to evaluate what’s really working,” said district community relations coordinator Chris Case. “Then we’ll have some good criteria to work with for next year.”

Both schedule options would have an impact on the school’s textbook needs, which will increase greatly under both. The six-period day would also create a need for six additional classrooms at the high school.

Who would teach and what we be taught in the “short” classrooms is undetermined, though survey’s of teachers by the task force indicated that sophomore courses in English and math work well under the year-long 55-minute option rather than the current semester long, 85-minute option.

But some on the 32-member task force are dissatisfied that a full modification — such as the seven-period combination block, which was recommended by the task force but opposed by many students and teachers — has not yet been implemented.

“We’re really frustrated that it hasn’t moved forward faster,” said task force member Linda Berry-Maraist. “The whole attempt here is to try and keep the best of both (block and short classes).”

Berry-Maraist and other task force members wonder whether or not a year of small change will equate to the following year’s acceptance by the NKHS faculty of a full change to a schedule like the seven period modified block.

“They’re hoping that with another year of time, the teachers will be more accepting of this,” she said. “And the real issue here is, do we have the teacher’s support?”

Debates over how many students each teacher should have, fine-tuning the schedule and determining how much planning time teachers should receive under a new schedule continue to rage on.

But a majority of teachers backed the proposed flexible block schedule adaptation by voting Thursday afternoon. Case said Friday morning that the early results showed the teachers were “overwhelmingly” in support of the flexible plan. Some of the teachers like the idea of having both semester long blocks and short year long courses to supplement different kinds of learning.

“We do really need to have the mix,” said NKHS teacher Jim Stark. “There is no one size fits all approach.”

The high school is known for having a wide array of electives for students to choose from. The flexible schedule will help both those elective courses by offering blocks as well as the more general requirements by offering “shorts,” said business and technical education teacher Chad Gillespie.

“Developing a schedule that supports both electives and general coursework is critical in maintaining this unique atmosphere and career path exploration that NKHS has,” he said.

Students, too, seem to lean toward the more flexible block schedule and many are strongly opposed to the six-period day.

“I think it’s a great concept,” said senior Tim Siburg. “But the six-period day is not an option and shouldn’t even be considered an option.”

But the students’ main concern seems to be having increased information and involvement in the process.

“They have to change (the schedule) to meet the criteria,” said junior Alexis Cundiff, one of the organizers of the NKHS walkout in January over the schedule changes. “But the main issue is we were still left in the dark about this.”

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