"Not Guinea Pigs" by Emma Boersma

EDITORIAL: Hold off on new schedule until hearing student voices

When the Octagon made the new schedule our editorial topic, we didn’t expect such fractured opinions. Traditionally, editorials are produced by a unanimous consensus from our editorial board — and traditionally, said consensus is reached in one elective period.

Not only have we had two board meetings to debate, we’re still at odds over our final verdict on the changes. 

The one point we could agree on was that we should have known about the committee’s plans to change the schedule earlier. Even for students aware of the possible change, few expected the new schedule to happen next year. 

Why the mystery? Why no official student polling? And most importantly, why was the proposed schedule never tested?  

In September, students could fill out a 13-part Google poll entitled “Schedule Feedback” from head of high school Brooke Wells. The poll said the administration wanted community feedback, as the 2018-23 Strategic Plan involved taking a “close look at (the school’s) daily and yearly schedule.”

However, it did not mention responses could be used for a new schedule in 2019-20. And given that this was the only schoolwide feedback the scheduling committee received, it wasn’t not official student polling.

“Informal polls” are not a viable substitute, either. Not only do they create a small sample size, they lead to bias. What works for one student or class will not work for another given differences in interests — sports, the arts, class difficulty and more.

Most concerning is how rushed the schedule seems. If, as high school dean of student life Patricia Jacobsen said, the committee’s original goal was “trying to have a conversation about a better option for our students,” how have we already determined a definite schedule?

We fail to see why the timeline for a new schedule needs to be carried out in just one year. Furthermore, we don’t understand why the schedule would get approved with no testing or final student opinions.

History teacher Chris Kuipers said testing would not happen because there is not enough time left in the year. That is true — seniors are no longer on campus, and many classes are in relaxation mode. 

But without testing, there’s no way to tell whether this schedule will work for all subjects — especially foreign language, which requires steady, daily practice — or whether it will decrease student stress, which was mentioned as an objective for the new schedule. 

This editorial’s primary goal isn’t to address whether the schedule is good or bad, because the reality is that some students will do better on it and some worse. 

Passing periods, for example, will allow students to get books before class. The addition of a flex period will extend some students’ free electives, giving copious time for homework or socializing. And athletes will likely miss only one class for games due to the reworked schedule order.

Others, however, will be disserviced by changes. 

Students in labor-intensive electives like band, orchestra or choir, which are already running on insufficient time, will lose 10 minutes because of the shortened elective. 

For them, the flex period may have to be booked often just to stay on track with music. 

Speaking of flex period, despite being only 35 minutes, the slot is expected to be used for countless events. 

Given makeup tests, extra elective time, drug and alcohol meetings, sex ed, field trips, club meetings and more, it’s unlikely flex will account for everything, and students could end up double-booked.

Plus, because of the new five-class rotation, students in content-heavy classes — AP U.S. History, AP Physics C and AP Biology — will be losing class hours each year. 

Assuming a 33-week school year and factoring in long periods, 15.75 hours will be lost per class. And even if a current class consistently starts five minutes late, it will lose 2.25 hours.

Finally, students learning foreign languages will no longer have daily classes, impeding fluency.

The aforementioned issues make us wonder how this schedule will run error-free next year.

Although head of school Lee Thomsen said the committee will meet in the fall to “evaluate implementation of the schedule and recommend any further adaptations,” any issues up to that point will be difficult or impossible to reverse. And if there are any major complications that cannot be fixed, the entire school year could be jeopardized.

Next year’s students are not guinea pigs.

Consider holding back the schedule a year and using 2019-20 to improve issues like lost elective time, overstuffed flex periods and handicapped foreign language departments. In the meantime, gather those missing student opinions. 

Originally published in the May 28 edition of the Octagon.

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