I recently received a set of recommendations from the High School Schedule Implementation Advisory Group and wanted to share my current thinking and next steps regarding our new high school schedule, which will go into effect next school year, 2017-18.

As always, I would love to hear from you and feel free to comment on this blog. I will do my best to respond to your questions and comments.

If you want to read the full recommendation, you can view it here.

Here are some the most significant changes they recommend for next year and beyond:

  • New graduation requirements: Starting with the class of 2021, students can earn up to 32 credits, and the advisory group recommends requiring 30 credits to graduate. Credit requirements will be different for the next three graduating classes (2018, 2019 and 2020) because those students will be transitioning from a six-period schedule to an eight-period schedule. Under the recommendation, starting with the class of 2021, students will be required to earn additional credits in art, science, career and technical education ( CTE) and electives. (Note: additional art and science requirements are based on new state requirements.) You can see a full chart of graduation requirements for the class of 2021 and beyond, as well as an explanation for the changes here.
  • Support time for students: The committee is recommending two 30-minute support classes (currently called THOR, SSR/RtI, Anchor, etc.), be offered every Wednesday and Thursday. The advisory group surveyed students and staff about support time, and results were mixed. Students expressed strong interest in having student support time embedded in the schedule, either daily or twice a week. Staff offered an important perspective about how students actually used the time (not all students want or use this time as intended) and keenly understand the advantages and disadvantages of embedding such time into the schedule. We are not only considering students’ perspectives, but also instructional time for courses and alternative ways to offer student support in an expanded schedule. For example, we are currently developing optional academic workshop classes for students as part of our course offerings, as well as expanding AVID, a class that supports students in graduating and preparing for college.

These recommendations are the some of the first big steps in a complex process, and I’m excited to move forward with the advisory group’s recommendations. I truly believe students will benefit from the eight-period schedule, from its flexibility to the additional capacity for electives offered across all subject areas. I’m grateful for the work of the advisory group to make thoughtful recommendations on how to implement this new schedule.

That said, there is still much to figure out as we move forward. What are you excited about with the new eight-period schedule? What questions do you still have?

We’ve developed this FAQ webpage to address some of the most common inquiries, including questions about homework, stress, Advanced Placement (AP) classes, physical education (P.E.) waivers and zero hour.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Comments (19)

  • Hello Superintendent Baker,

    I keep waiting to have a better understanding about how this schdule will affect students taking classes at Whatcom and a high school. For example, my daughter takes a 2nd period class (band), then attends Whatcom classes. So, if this class remains in 2nd period and school starts at 8:30 then that means some days every week she would be in school until around 10 and other days she wouldn’t have this class at all. Is that correct? What more can you tell us about the interaction with Running Start? Thanks.

    • Thanks Raine for your question. Same as now, the new high school schedule does do not necessarily match up with any particular college schedule. Students planning on taking Running Start courses will want to work with their school counselor. You are correct that with the new high school schedule, classes meet every other day.

  • I’m wondering if you could address the fact that we are basically maintaining the same length school day (I think there will be about a 15 minute addition to the school day) yet suddenly there are 33% more “credits” students will be able to take (moving from a 6-period day to an 8-period day). I don’t feel like you have discussed this issue very transparently. Why don’t we just make the 6 periods “worth” 1.33 credits to meet the new state requirements of increased credits to graduate? You seem to be doing the exact same thing but in reverse: Suddenly the instructional time is “worth” more because you’re dividing it by 8 instead of 6. The whole thing feels like creative accounting, rather than providing more education. It feels distinctly like cheating to me, to say that the same instructional time will now earn students more credits. I’d love to hear how this is justified.

    Relatedly, given that the instructional time for 6 periods (now) will become instructional time for 8 periods, students will actually have less instructional time for each course. That’s just basic math. Some other commenters have raised the concern that 8 periods-worth of homework and other obligations will be too much to manage; I agree, but now let’s add to that the fact that each course will have LESS TIME to teach what it used to teach. So now we have a) less instructional time, b) increased homework to cover the content that could not be discussed in the reduced class time, and c) 33% more courses to juggle. This math does not make sense to me. Why will we continue to give the same amount of credit–1 credit–for a course that is teaching less content? Let’s take AP classes as an example. The content is fixed–the test has that content whether the teacher covers it or not (because it is developed by an outside authority). The instruction of that fixed content has to happen and takes a set amount of time. How are AP teachers supposed to deliver that content to adequately prepare their students for AP exams if they have less time? Is the message that AP isn’t important? Because if I recall, AP classes and their utmost importance was held up as a reason for the school year starting in August–the most recent change you asked us to endorse. Your rationale for that schedule change was so AP-heavy–you touted AP as being so important and “saving” parents so much money when students could transfer those credits into college. There was like a numerical calculation about that amount of money that was even part of your campaign for this. The whole reason for starting school in August was to give AP teachers time to cover the needed material. So where is the concern for these super-important AP classes now? What about all the money parents were going to “save” by having their students in AP classes? Why are they being totally disregarded in this switch to an 8-period day? I guess you could argue that parents are now going to “lose” money because fewer students will be prepared for the AP exams because you’re cutting the instructional time by a very significant margin.

    I recognize that it’s a complex problem, but I would like to hear why you think this credit-load change is actually a pedagogical advancement and not just a case of creative accounting.

    • Hi there, thanks for taking the time to ask these questions. I’ll do my best to address them but it may be a phone call with one of our staff members might be helpful.

      First, AP classes and tests. All of our teachers will be adjusting their instructional practices in the eight-period schedule, including AP teachers. This is a change our high school staff is aware of and we’re working to address through professional development – both at our schools and districtwide in job-alike/subject-alike work. We’re also adding optional workshop classes for students, which is time for students to get extra help (from staff or peers) and complete their work, so if you added the workshop class minutes, students could be gaining extra time in certain subjects/classes. Preparing students to be successful for AP exams is important as you mention, thus why in part we have lengthened the school day by 15 minutes. But it’s certainly more than just AP tests. The new schedule allows for more course options for students and eliminates the need for students to take classes at 6:30 am. As you can see there are many different aspects at play.

      It’s also important to note that our eight-period schedule (defined in minutes per class per school year) falls into the College Board’s recommended instructional time ahead of the AP tests in May. And AP classes and tests are becoming less about memorizing content and more about students’ deeper understanding of concepts. While still a work in progress for some AP subjects, the College Board is making an intentional shift. And as you mentioned, the school year calendar (and starting before Labor Day) helps give AP teachers and students more time with the material. Currently, all AP test are administered in early May. We are working with the College Board to increase flexibility in our AP testing window in an effort to shift some (not all) AP test dates back by a week or two. Ideally, we’d like to get the AP tests to be given in June, as close to the end of the school year as possible. Moving in this direction may certainly change our thinking about when we start school and possibly allow us to start later in the future. Stay tuned on that point.

      Now to your point about creative accounting: the number of minutes of instructional time and student support time (THOR, Anchor, SSR/RtI) varies from school-to-school across our district, and in the spirit of One Schoolhouse and The Bellingham Promise, I believe the new schedule will bring equity to our schools and community.

      I also don’t view this shift in instructional time as a zero-sum game, though I understand that perspective. Yes, the new schedule means a loss of instructional time in some classes – but what about the other classes students have always wanted to take but never had the capacity in their schedule to even consider? Instead of viewing this as robbing Peter to pay Paul, I see it as creating more balance – a balanced schedule. Our core classes are important. So are AP courses – and so are electives that allow students to follow/develop a passion, release stress or a little of both. For example, I see a big gain if a student has always wanted to take a STEM class (or art, additional science, world language, you name it), but couldn’t because they were in orchestra.

      For some kids, the six-period day is holding them back. For others, they found workarounds, like zero hour, or waivers, which are not ideal or equitable (we don’t provide transportation to zero hour, for example).

      I know comparing 6 period to 8 periods is complicated and may sound like creative accounting, but it can be even more complicated if you look at the fact that there are even other schedules district’s have chosen, such a 5-period trimester, where students take 5 classes and switch three times a year. At those schools, students receive 30 credits in 4 years. It’s similar to college…depending on whether the college is on a quarter system, like WWU or WSU, or the semester system, like Gonzaga. Students take different number of courses and each courses is worth a different amount of credits. Confused yet? :). I’d be happy to talk through this with you more as I sometimes get confused just trying to explain these nuances!

      There are also many intangibles that aren’t as easily measured, such as the balance and calm that attending four classes in a given day can bring to a student and school culture. The high school schedule implementation committee also advised teachers to utilize guidelines around homework, so students don’t feel that burden at home as a result of the new schedule.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment! I’m always happy to meet with parents and staff to talk about concerns – so if you are still seeking additional answers, feel free to send me an email and we can set something up.

  • Thanks for your response. I do need to point out, however, that the college example you offer is not a valid comparison and does not provide an explanation to my question. A quarter system requires more credits because credits are counted by hours of instructional time for a single course PER WEEK. 15 credits (3 5-credit classes) 3x a year (3 quarters) = 45 credits per year on quarters, whereas 5 3-credit classes 2x per year = 30 credits per year on semester. But at quarter systems, you need more credits to graduate. Typically you need 180 “quarter credit hours” to graduate (4 years x 45 credits/year = 180). At a semester system, you need 120 “semester credit-hours” to graduate (4 years x 30 credits/year = 120). The credits are specifically qualified as “quarter” and “semester” credit hours because they MEAN DIFFERENT THINGS and specifically account for instructional time. A 5-credit course means you have 5 hours per week in the classroom. That means, at 10 weeks per quarter, you have 50 hours of instruction. A 3-credit course means you have 3 hours per week in the classroom, but at 15 weeks, you get 45 hours of instruction. They are fairly equivalent but the “per week” accounting makes it seem like they are not because the number of weeks on quarters vs. semesters is so radically different. Universities don’t just arbitrarily change the number of credits associated with the same amount of instructional time. It’s actually a specific calculation based on instructional time. Your proposed system, however, does not seem to be employing any kind of calculation that includes instructional time as that relates to credits. Your system seems to be arbitrarily assigning the same credit for a 25% drop in instructional time per course. I’m wondering how that’s possible.

    I see how this all can be confusing, but I don’t think I’m confused about your proposal. I think i’m seeing it pretty clearly and the numbers don’t add up. What is the state regulation for how many hours of instruction are required to earn one credit? That information would go a long way in helping me understand how you are sticking to state standards for awarding credit for course work and how you are justifying this under the new system. I do agree that more choices in course offerings is a good thing for students, but I’m not seeing the clear rationale for why it’s okay to give the same credit per course for less instructional time per course. Thanks for your time in helping me understand your logic.

    • Thanks again for engaging. Here’s maybe a key piece of information that will help: the state does not identify the amount of hours that makes up a credit. Things have now changed where a credit can mean many different things, sometimes related to hours, sometimes not. For example, whether a district has 5, 6 or 8 classes at a time, they each can be considered a .5 credit per semester. Strange I know! Credits can also be given based on competency or mastery. So for example, a student might demonstrate they can speak another language and they can receive a credit w/out taking a class. Students can also take on-line courses and finish them at their own pace, where it may take one student 50 hours, and another student 100 hours.
      Here is a link that explains some of these nuances.
      Happy to have one of my staff or myself give you a call and talk through further. Thanks again!

      • Thank you, that link helped a lot, to see that even at the State level, creative accounting is occurring. So our district is in the clear in terms of what it counts as a credit since the State is doing the same thing. This begs the question of why bother to change credit requirements at the State level if credits are not standardized–they have no objective meaning at the State level, thus requiring more of them is a completely arbitrary policy change with no meaningful effect.

        The info on that link does raise another question of where the line is. Why not require 200 credits to graduate and have students take 25 courses each semester? Students would have *so much* choice. That’s a ridiculous example, of course, but one that would be entirely possible under the regulations on that link. So how has the district decided on where that line is? How many courses would be “too much,” and how do you know? What do the teachers say about how much they and students can handle? They are the ones in the trenches who will have to carry out this arbitrary change. How are they going to handle the content in less time? Will they cut content (providing less knowledge) or will they move faster (leaving more kids behind)? I don’t think it’s too much to ask to hear teachers’ concerns about the content/time ratio.

        So I think this move is a mistake, in large part because you provide no justification about why this is the exact right number of courses to teach in the time allotted, and you have not included the most relevant information: teachers’ assessments of what is possible with their content and what is the best choice for students. It’s my understanding that 7 courses was too complicated to divide, so that idea was scrapped and 8 courses became the plan. I do not find that to be an acceptable pedagogical rationale. Seven courses would have less of an effect and perhaps provide a compromise position. Again, that’s just math.

        In addition, I agree with someone who posted below: this process has never felt transparent nor has it ever felt like parents have been asked for serious input in the consideration phase. Another transparency issue: what do high school teachers say about the increase in number of courses and students they’re going to get? They should be paid more because they will be working more. How will you fairly compensate them? Where will that money come from? The transparency isn’t there.

        • Thanks, “a parent” for your continued interest. As I stated in the response to Jennifer (see further down in the comments – you will need to scroll a little), we have engaged our high school teachers quite a bit during this process, including the Bellingham Education Association, the labor organization that represents our certificated staff. We made the decision to shift to eight periods last spring, in large part, based on their feedback. But again, no schedule is perfect, and I realize there may be some teachers who feel differently. I’d also add that I was very appreciative of the number of staff members who expressed that they were “all in” no matter if we went with seven or eight periods.
          Re: transparency, please see my detailed response to Jennifer about our process.
          And I can’t help but be amused by your question of transparency, since you’re commenting anonymously. : )

  • Hi Greg,

    Thanks for the information. I have some questions.

    1. I am a parent of a Squalicum sophomore. His current course planning guide says only 23 credits are required for him to graduate in 2018. I know the schools are transitioning and that there will be exciting courses. But aren’t the students’ graduation requirements already set in 9th grade? Why such a big change when only 24 credits are needed? Some of this is about expectations, but I want confirmation about requirements.

    2. Will students be able to take two math courses so they can have math daily? Will they receive credit for one, or both? How many of the courses will be repeatable?

    3. How will this affect class sizes? Staffing?

    4. Will students have to take PE if they play sports? Many of the practices are 4-5 days a week. Won’t more activity be too much and risk overuse injuries? Many of the students play sports, so they are unlikely to all get waivers. Even classes like yoga can cause overuse injury if the students are practicing and gaming 5 days a week or more.

    5. I also agree with the parent above about AP classes. The start date move to before labor day was said to be due to teachers and students needing more AP course time, but with this schedule there is less class time per class per year. With students having some classes only twice a week, alternating with three times a week, this could be a real problem.

    • Hi Michael, great questions. I’m going to follow your number order to keep your questions straight.
      1. The classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 will be the transition years for graduation requirements, which has some complexities, but I think we have a good plan to address our new expectations. Because these three groups of students (including your son) will be shifting from a six period schedule to an eight period schedule, our expectation is that high school students will be full-time students over their four year high school career, so our credit expectations are higher than what we previously stated. Your son’s graduation requirements (class of 2019) were initially based on the six-period methodology at 23, but now we expect students in the class of 2019 to graduate with 26.5 credits. So technically the minimal requirement for graduation for current 9 10 and 11 graders are the current requirements, but what’s great is the new schedule allows these students to not only meet but exceed these minimum requirements.”
      2. Three math credits are needed for graduation (these graduation requirements are not changing), so while students don’t typically double-up in math to meet graduation requirements, the new schedule will allow interested students to actually take some math elective classes that students on a six period schedule were not able to fit in. Each yearlong course equals one credit. If students do not pass a course, they work with their counselors to develop a plan to get back on track including retaking a given course if appropriate.
      3. Class size depends on subject, course and school, but we do not expect the eight period day to have a significant impact on class size. We increased our staffing in our high schools this last year in anticipation for this schedule change, and after registration in Feb. and March, we anticipate adding additional staff based on our registration data and student enrollment. We expect our overall class sizes to remain stable and be similar to levels we’ve experienced over recent years.
      4. We are expanding our menu of physical education course offerings and we expect fewer students to request waivers given the additional capacity in their schedules. It is still possible for students to obtain physical education waivers in the new schedule. Our staff are working on some some new guidelines/processes. This is a work in progress.
      5. I understand your concern about AP courses. And as I said to the other parent, in addition to teachers adjusting their instructional practices based on the new timeframe, we are also looking at other ways to help mitigate concerns about instructional time. The first is for students to take an academic workshop elective – this may give students time to work with teachers (AP and otherwise) to get additional help, complete work, etc. The second solution is to shift some of our AP test dates later in May by a week or two, which will give some students and teachers additional instructional time. We have also increased the length of the student day by 15 minutes to mitigate less instructional time per class. It’s also important to note that having time before AP exams is important, and there are other values at play as well, including providing more course opportunities, and providing better opportunities for students to meet increased state graduation requirements.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment on the blog, Michael. Great questions – and it’s great to hear your concerns and feedback.

  • Also, if my student misses a class on this schedule, it is equal to missing two classes. When will students be able to meet with their teacher to make up missed labs or tests? The short anchor periods likely won’t permit enough make up time. Suggestions? If teachers are absent in a class, like AP physics, will the substitutes be qualified to teach that deep of information? This is an additional concern because of classes meeting only two or three times a week. Same for math, world language, the other sciences, English, etc.

    • Hi again, Michael.
      When a student misses a class, it will be the same as our current practice. Students are responsible for communicating with their teachers (and many students additionally work with classmates) to find out what they missed, upcoming deadlines, etc. This can happen before or after school, during student support time (Anchor, THOR, etc.), during a teacher’s prep period and even online. You may know that we are moving toward a 1:1 technology model for students where each student will have some kind of portable device (like laptop or tablet). We expect a lot of students’ and teachers’ work to be accessible on the cloud – from anywhere, anytime, which may help.

      Teachers understand the importance of being present and preparing quality substitute plans when they are absent. Our current practice is to utilize qualified substitute teachers, which we will continue. And like the many other areas in our state, we’re always recruiting qualified subs (in case you know any!). 🙂

  • I don’t remember you seeking parent input about any of the high school schedule changes before you made this decision. I don’t believe you want parent input. I believe you want to check this off your list. Parent input done! Check! This schedule really takes away weeks of student hours on the class subject. Depth teaching doesn’t recover that. The students have basic credit requirements and electives now. Sure add some more. But they shouldn’t be forced to do 8 classes each semester that are thinned out. Graduation requirements shouldn’t be raised to 30 if they need 24. This is not something to decide and then tell parents and then seek “input”.

    • hi Terry. I’m sorry that you think we didn’t ask for parent input regarding the new high school schedule. I value transparency and process, which includes feedback from stakeholders.
      We have checked in with families, students and teachers at various points throughout the process to change the high school schedule and shift bell times, both of which go into effect next school year. My blog is just one tool for input. We administered a survey about two years ago (March 2015) that centered around changing start and end times, increasing the length of the high school day and increasing opportunities for high school students. Since that time, we sent several communications to parents, including the survey, updates, explainer videos about what/why we were considering making these changes, as well as blogs, emails and even had media coverage in the Herald and KGMI.
      And in response to your comment about credits: students who are currently in high school will not be required to earn 30 credits. During these transition years, credit expectations vary. See these links: class of 2018, 2019 and 2020. The 30 credit requirement goes into effect with the class of 2021.
      I hope this response helps. Feel free to call my office to set up a meeting if you have more questions. Thanks for taking the time to add your input!

  • For current Bellingham school district high school students (classes of 2017 to 2020), the number of credits required for graduation is 23 credits. By law, the number of credits required for graduation is designated by what is required in the district at the time each student enters 9th grade. See WAC 180-51-035, section 1b: “Students shall have the right and the obligation to meet the minimum graduation requirements in place for their expected graduation year designated at the time they enter a district high school, regardless of what year they actually graduate.” http://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=180-51-035. Again, 23 credits for those students currently enrolled in the Bellingham school district.

    In 2014 the state increased minimum graduation requirements to 24 for the graduating classes of 2019 and beyond. Bellingham school district was approved a two year waiver, so the 24 credit requirement is the minimum for classes 2021 and greater. According to the Washington State Board of Education, the 24 credits was chosen so as to balance flexibility with rigor. “The 24-credit framework was designed to be both rigorous and flexible. The pathway for most students will keep all postsecondary options open, including meeting the college admission requirements for entry into a public four-year institution or pursuing a program of study in a two -year institution or apprenticeship. The framework is flexible enough to accommodate a program of study leading to a professional or technical certificate or degree through a skills center or Career and Technical Education program.” http://sbe.wa.gov/graduation.php#.WIQ4m2oiz7Y.

    Available with the 24 credit requirement is a two credit waiver for students who struggle at passing all their classes. Two credits is equivalent to four semester courses. There are some restrictions, but the general purpose is to provide struggling students the opportunity to graduate if “unusual circumstances” resulted in achieving 22/24 credits. The state left it to each district’s discretion about whether to offer the waivers and how to define “unusual circumstances”. My suggestion would be to support students by offering this waiver as needed and, of course, to define it clearly.

    For classes of 2021 and greater, requiring them to graduate with 30 credits does not align with the requirements of the top ten public high schools in Washington state which require 24 or a few credits more. These schools have variations of 6-period, 6-period modified block, 7-period, or 7-period modified block. Ranking wise, the high schools in Bellingham are closer to these schools in rank than they are to the more rural schools, like Sedro Woolley, Mt. Vernon, and Ferndale which do offer 4×8 (or 4×4) schedules. The six- or seven-period modified block schedules and the traditional 6- and 7-period schedules have been demonstrated to be more positively associated with increased student performance. It make sense: offering flexibility but maintaining rigor is associated with better learning than having students have a lot of flexibility but less rigor in 4×8 and 4×4 schedules. Of all the available schedules, time and again these (4×4, 4×8, and full blocking in general) demonstrate the weakest student performance. This matters! No schedule is perfect, but we can identity the ones with the best demonstrated efficacy and those are the modified block and the traditional 6- or 7-period schedule.

    In summary here, for current students, the graduation credit requirements are 23. For incoming students, the state suggested 24 but it is up to the district superintendent to select the 24 or more, keeping in mind, first and foremost, the best interests of the students. Twenty four or a few more seems reasonable. The modified block 6- or 7-period schedules have demonstrated the greatest strengths, least weaknesses, and are the schedules associated with the best and not too distantly ranked schools. Wouldn’t it be great to follow what works? The 4×8 and 4×4 are not new, neither is blocking. They are the weakest. Our children’s education matter to them, their families, and all of us, as we all benefit when we respect best practices, while being innovative (which those schedules are not, and they demonstrate less efficacy), and accurate.

    • Hi Stephanie. I appreciate your consistent passion around the high school schedule. I think we need to agree to disagree on what we believe is best for our students. I think there are compelling pros and cons to the six, seven and eight period schedules, let alone other schedules that have four or five periods. But as you state, there is no perfect schedule. Re: graduation requirements, the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 will be the transition years for graduation requirements, which has some complexities, but I think we have a good plan to address our new expectations.
      Our expectation is that high school students will be full-time students over their four year high school career, so our credit expectations are higher than under the old schedule. So yes, technically the minimal requirement for graduation for current 9 10 and 11 graders are the current requirements, but what’s great is the new schedule allows these students to not only meet but exceed these minimum requirements. It’s also important to note that some of the other districts with seven periods still have zero hour classes, so in essence, they have an eight period day for some students.

  • I would to echo some of the other parents’ comments/concerns already posted here.

    First, I too question the transparency of the decision-making process behind the high school schedule change. The district has been great about conducting surveys and seeking feedback about the school start and end times but where has the corresponding informational, survey, and feedback sessions regarding increasing credits beyond that of which the state is requiring and changing the high school schedule. I recall the parent input survey surrounding school start times, but I certainly don’t recall receiving any input survey regarding increasing credits or changing school the block schedule. I do believe parents of current high school students were surveyed, but not the rest of the parent community who may have students affected by these changes and are also invested in this topic. Clearly the administration decided to implement a change in class schedule and to increase the number of graduation credits and then appointed an advisory board to make recommendations on how to best implement these changes, not to help decide whether these changes should be implemented (this is clear from reading the meeting minutes which can be found here: https://bellinghamschools.org/about/committees-advisory-groups/high-school-schedule-implementation-advisory-group/ ).

    Second, I understand that the Bellingham School District is one that prides itself on promoting rigor and flexibility, and I appreciate this. But at what point does this rigor impose too many requirements upon our students. For example, in your emails and the publications sent to families in the fall you state (in the vaguest of terms) that the increase in high school credits is due to the state increase in credit requirements (you also state this in the “What’s Up Doc” video) , but what you fail to mention is that the state is only increasing the number of graduation credits to 24, not the 30 Bellingham will be requiring. Thus by 2021, Bellingham schools will require 25-33% more credits for graduation than the state requires. Rigorous? Yes, but why to such an extensive degree? If the argument is flexibility, then allowing students to graduation with a range of credits (i.e., 26-30), provides for this flexibility and ensures that students can still participant in Running Start and find time in their schedules to take college courses at the local community colleges, or choose high school elective (or not) that interest them. At a time in which our K-12 population is showing the highest rate of anxiety and ADHD on record, why are we setting the district’s expectations 25% higher than the state’s? The change in high school start times was a move in the right direction for the mental health of our high school students. Let’s not tilt the scales back in the other direction again by piling on more work and setting unnecessarily high expectations for our students.

    Also you state in the “What’s Up Doc” video that the schedule change was also meant as a solution to the large number of students who find themselves needing to take zero hour classes. I am interested in these data. Can you tell me what percentage of students are currently taking zero hour classes at our high schools, and what are the top three classes students are enrolling in for zero hour?

    Lastly, I keep coming across the phrase “our expectation is that high school students will be full-time students over their four-year high school career” both in the language you and the advisory board use. Can you explain the implications of this phrase with regards to Running Start and/or online classes?

    I look forward to hearing back from you. Thanks.

    • Hi Jennifer. Thanks for your comments and questions! I’ll do my best to address each question.

      Decision-making process and transparency:

      Working from most recent to 2014, below is a recap of what we’ve done and how we shared our process. (Sorry if my answers are a bit lengthy – but I understand the transparency concern and want to address it.)

      In early December, I sent out a message to families and staff about the advisory group’s work and we shared blog and a “What’s Up Doc?” video, which features students interviewing me and assistant superintendent Steve Clarke about the new schedule. We answered many questions from staff, parents and students.

      In early October, we sent a message to families about a survey their students would be receiving during the school day regarding the new schedule change, graduation requirements, electives, student support time, etc.

      In June 2016, we sent a message asking for any interested individuals to apply for the High School Schedule Implementation Advisory Group.

      In April 2016, I sent this message to families announcing that we would be moving from a six period schedule to an eight period schedule. Prior to that, me and my team worked closely with high school staff and principals to determine the pros and cons of both a 4×8 schedule and a 7-period schedule. This work included several surveys, meetings with high school department leadership teams and school/district visits around the region to see different high school schedules in action.

      I published several blogs between Nov. 2015 and March 2016 about start and end times. Because the high school schedule is connected to this shift, I answered some questions about the high school electives, flexibility, more opportunities for students, etc.

      In March 2015, we surveyed families, staff, students and community members about start and end times, which also included information and questions about a new high school schedule. Families, staff and students expressed strong support for more creating more opportunities for additional credits and a more flexible high school schedule. (We did not get into specifics about 7 vs. 8 — that came later with research, staff engagement/buy-in from fall 2015 to spring 2016). We messaged later in March 2015 that we were going to take feedback we had received and revise our plans.

      During the 2014-15 school year, Steve Clarke and I met with and surveyed all high school students to talk about increasing electives, making the schedule more flexible, giving students more breathing room in their schedule and allowing them to pursue their passions and interests (music, art, world language, STEM, etc.). The feedback we received helped shape plans we developed with staff last year (2015-16 school year).

      And the link you included is from our high school schedule implementation advisory group – their focus and charge was to implement the new eight period schedule. As I said earlier, we shared in April 2016 (close to a year ago) that we were making this change to the high school schedule. The advisory group’s role was to problem-solve the “how” (not the “if”). My request for input on the blog last week was centered around the implementation committee’s recommendation — not whether we were going to the new schedule.

      Our high school staff and administration were highly engaged in the process of weighing pros and cons between both 7 and 8 period schedules, and this was intentional. It was the support of our staff and students, along with visiting and working with neighboring districts, that tipped the scales in favor of the 8 period schedule. It emerged as the best option for our students and district. We have strong support from the Bellingham Education Association (BEA), high school teachers, counselors and high school administrators. I’d also say that looking at the list of communications (and our website and local media), we included parents and families with key updates every step of the way. I’d also add that every and any message we send out is an opportunity for feedback. I answer every email and phone call (or blog) I receive or I make sure that someone on my team returns the call or email.

      State requirements vs. our requirements: The state’s 24 credit requirement I would suggest is based more on a traditional 6 period day model, where students go to school each day, 180 days/year, for four years. Many districts have other models, whether a 5 period, 7 period or 8 period day. The state doesn’t change the requirements for the different models; instead, districts change the requirements to meet the intent of four years of high school. So instead of focusing on the number of credits, it might be more helpful to focus on what does it look like for a student to attend high school for four years. That’s the similarity across district’s – full-time for four years. The number of credits changes based upon what schedule is chosen.

      Zero hour: The most common zero hour classes are music and performing arts, such as jazz bands and choir, and strength/weight training. Percentages and stats are coming – I’ll add an updated response soon!

      Full time status: Students who take Running Start and/or online classes work with their counselors to develop individual plans depending upon the students’ interests and needs. Some students choose to be dual enrolled, for example, and take courses at one of our high schools as well as at a local community college. In that case, they need to review both the high school and community college master schedules to work out a feasible schedule.

      Community colleges work with school districts to develop course equivalency guidelines which show which courses satisfy which graduation requirements and for how many credits. As another example, a student can earn 1.0 credit in a year-long eleventh grade English class which is equivalent to a given list of Whatcom Community College courses that are worth three to five community college credits. Because college courses vary in how much credit can be earned and because each Running Start student situation varies, we lean towards being flexible and working together on a plan.

      Phew! Hopes this helps, Jennifer! I’m always happy to talk more off-line if that’s easier. Thanks again for your comment and questions!

      • Just a quick update on zero hour enrollment: we have over 130 students taking zero hour (before school) courses in Jazz Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra and Chamber or Swing Choir. We also have over 60 students enrolled in before or after school labs for credit retrieval or credit ahead. We believe there are other students who would like to take some of these courses but are unable to due to the fact that students taking these courses must provide their own transportation.