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Chucked ‘block’ creates chock-a-block

POULSBO — The combination of more classes and more students at school with less passing time and less parking has NKHS senior Kellie Loyd stressed out to start the school year.

“There’s so many more people,” Loyd said. “A lot of people haven’t even been able to get lunches. And you can’t get to your classes on five minutes (passing time).”

The culprit, she explained, is the school’s new schedule.

“It makes it a lot harder in general for everything,” she said.

That six-period schedule — where students take six, 55-minute, yearlong classes for six credits — has changed the high school from its previous “block” configuration. The block had each student taking four, 85-minute classes per semester for a total of eight credits per year.

The latter schedule was nixed by the school board last year, because four of the five directors refused to pass a long-standing waiver that allowed the high school use the schedule despite the fact it didn’t meet the state mandated 150 credit hours per class.

Under the block, students could have 24 classes in three years. In a six-period configuration, they can only have 18 in the same span.

That fact spurred senior Jonathan Isenhower, who wanted to earn more credits, to enroll full-time in the Running Start program at Olympic College, where he can easily finish his high school course load, but work toward — and possibly finish — his associate’s degree by the time he graduates from high school.

Loyd and Isenhower, however, concede that going to the new schedule has its advantages in that it will help increase instruction in the high school’s core areas while it decreases elective options due to a smaller number of classes a student can take in three years at North.

“I think it’s a hand off,” Isenhower said. “You get more of the math, English and language classes. But (for instance) the culinary arts (classes) can’t do nearly as much as before on a six-period day.”

The new schedule created a difficult position for some seniors this year, who had left more than six credits for their senior year. But NKHS Principal Roy Herrera said each situation was accounted for.

“We left no senior behind,” he said.

The six period also created a need for more teaching space and school administrators had to find seven new classrooms in order to accommodate the schedule change. Two of those came in the school’s old vocational building adjacent to the gym, renovated this summer. The other five will come in the form of portables, to be placed at the existing staff parking lot near the baseball field.

That change, however, spurred another: the teachers now park with the students, taking up about a fourth of the front lot, Herrera said. The result has been a crunch for spaces and many students have had to park along Hostmark as well as at Strawberry Field.

Numbers up

Combine that with another surprise — North’s enrollment surged by about 75 students.

While the increase may have exacerbated an already difficult change, the principal actually sees it as a positive.

“Part of what that shows is that people believe in North Kitsap High School,” he said.

He can’t say enough about his staff, stating, “they met the challenge” of a tough transition.

The high school’s staff did experience a large turnover during the summer, though, and Herrera said about 25 percent of the employees at NKHS are new. But he doesn’t attribute it to the schedule change, saying the impact to staffing changes was “minimal.”

Many of the school’s teachers — especially electives instructors — have had to change their instruction to include the core subjects as a result of the six-period day. Herrera said many have made the transition and are teaching courses like applied math to fit the students’ needs.

Herrera said he does feel that an emphasis on the main areas will help improve Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) scores, but only to a point.

“It will strengthen (the scores) but most WASL preparation occurs before they come to high school,” he said. “We get them when it’s time to go on the playing field.”

Indeed, North’s first year 10th graders will take the test this year and must pass it in order to graduate.

Shorter time

between

Having six periods each day has also necessitated shorter passing periods. Under the block, the students got 10 minutes between periods. They now have five.

In order to stress the importance of getting students to class more quickly, Herrera and the school’s administrative team have initiated a “lock-down” when the bells ring for class to start. Any student in the halls is disciplined, with penalties ranging from a warning to a detention.

Herrera said that the change has been effective — a year ago, he estimated 200 students or so were late for classes each period. Now, the “sweeps” by administrators to get students who have been locked out are averaging 10 to 15.

“For students, it’s changing what was into what should be,” Herrera said. “They’re hustling now.”

A two-period lunch under the six-period schedule has proved overwhelming for the cafeteria, and a third lunch will be added soon to alleviate the load, Herrera noted.

There are no plans to change the schedule for next year and the focus will be to stay the course, as well as prepare for the school’s grade level configuration change to bring up ninth graders when the Kingston High School opens in 2007. There is also the implementation of school-wide Small Learning Communities, also due to happen in 2007.

“It would just be spinning wheels,” Herrera said of changing the schedule for the 2007-08 year.

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