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Board knocks high school’s block off

POULSBO — It may have been referred to as a regularly scheduled North Kitsap School Board meeting, but what actually took place Thursday night was much more a trial.

The case concerned the future of North Kitsap High School’s schedule. The school board were the judges being asked to decide whether or not to continue development of a more flexible “block” schedule — but one that does not meet state mandates for class hours — or scrap the schedule for one that does.

The primary defendant of the block, NKHS Principal Roy Herrera, pled to the board to preserve the schedule, recognize student loyalty to it and his teachers’ sacrifice for change, and sign just one more waiver to make way for a transition to a brand new option next year.

The prosecutors of the block, mostly parents, said 13 years was long enough to sign waivers for a schedule they said is inferior to others in Kitsap County and that the NKSD has “cheated” students out of instructional time.

The issue split the packed courthouse — rather, the school district’s headquarters — before the school board made its final ruling.

The block, the board found, was guilty, by a 4-1 vote.

“I believe we have let the process of change itself dominate for too long,” said Board member Bethany McDonald. “Process is not a product. We need to move on. And we need the teachers in the classroom teaching.”

McDonald, fellow board members Dick Endresen, Ed Strickland and Catherine Ahl supported nixing the 127.5 hours per credit offered under the semester-long, four-period block schedule, in favor of a 150 hours per credit, year-long, six-period schedule.

“The board should never forget its obligation to the taxpayers who trust us to spend their money wisely and give our students the best education possible,” Endresen said. “We haven’t been doing that by cheating our students out of the necessary time required to cover a subject.”

Board member Dan Delaney provided the dissenting vote, calling the decision “a pivotal moment” in the district’s future and criticized heavily his fellow members.

“Please, let’s not take the negative step of forcing upon them a system that they don’t want,” Delaney said. “It is not the role of the school board to tell professional staff how to teach.”

The change will be nothing short of monumental, requiring at least $126,000 in new textbook requirements, five additional teachers and six more classrooms, high school administrators said. Elective classes will likely bear the brunt of the transition, as the school moves from eight credits per year to six.

“(This is) a huge mistake,” Hererra said following the meeting. “We’re going to have to tell our teachers they’re not teaching because we’ll be shifting all of their resources.”

The block on trial

Just after 5 p.m. Thursday, Herrera approached the podium and began to make arguments for the modified block schedule, which would allow for one morning split block period where two year-long “short” classes could be taught.

He referred to the board as creating a “tapestry” that was enacting gradual change, and that the modified block was a necessary next stitching in that tapestry as the high school moves toward what would likely be a seven-period “hybrid” of both block and short courses.

NKHS Counselor Debbie Gurrad spoke about the impacts on current students in moving to the six-period day, stating that at least 12-15 students who had planned on taking two years of foreign language their senior year would not be able to graduate under the current requirements. She also stated that 40-50 seniors next year need two more credits of math, another problem under six all year-long courses.

“(The students) have had a four year plan since ninth grade,” she said. “And now they’ll be scrambling to find an alternative.”

North Kitsap Education Association chairperson Bonnie Vahcic said this was a “trust issue” because the teachers had endorsed the modified block despite certain inequities they would face, such as differing planning period lengths and the amount of students they see.

“(The teachers) realized that this was the best solution going into a one year transition,” Vahcic told the board of the instructors’ acceptance of the modified block. “The trust was have is here ... but it’s going to require your trust also.”

When the board meeting began at 7 p.m., public comment included community members from all perspectives.

Parent Kim Hoover, too, said she believed that the block was detrimental to student learning but that current students had too much invested in it.

“Since we came into North Kitsap School District, I’ve wanted to see the block schedule dumped,” she said. “But what consideration are you making for the juniors at North Kitsap High School who have faithfully abided by this schedule?”

North Kitsap student Janelle Buford is one of those juniors facing that problem.

“I pray that you spend one more year (on the block),” she said to the board. “So you’re absolutely positive (a new schedule) works.”

On the other hand, Marianne Huggins, a parent and vocal opponent of the block schedule, advocated a strictly six-period day.

“We want state standards for all students,” she said.

“We need to go best practices,” parent Denise May said. “It seems to me most schools do fine under a six-period day and I hope my kids are in a six-period traditional school next year.”

“While I question over and over again why the administration hasn’t made the schedule a priority, I would like to thank the school board for making it theirs,” parent Pam Thomas said. “We have sort changed our students for far too many years, and the time has come for it to stop.”

NKHS teacher Tom Anderson, a frequent attendant of board meetings, said the board should “bite the bullet and go to something that’s tried and true.”

“My observation is that a six-period day has served this country very well, not perfectly, for the past 100 years,” he said.

Though they did not pass the waiver, board president Ahl told NKEA chair Vahcic and Hererra that “trust” was something she had last year, but they had failed her— not the other way around.

“I want that trust, Bonnie (Vahcic) and Roy (Hererra), and I had it last year. I thought, OK, finally, they’re going to tweak this, they’re going to make a difference, and it was just one more year,” Ahl said. “I don’t know how you could guarantee me that this will actually happen this time.”

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