High school principal details timeline, status of schedule change

Dec 12, 2017

Administrators at Dartmouth High School are preparing to make the biggest scheduling change since the 1990s to start off the next academic year.

The change would shift the high school from a block schedule with four 86-minute blocks a day to a period system with seven 50-minute periods each day.

School officials said there are shortcomings in block scheduling system, which has been in place since 1998, that a shift could solve.

Despite strengths in supporting workshops, project-based learning, and credit recovery and acceleration, Dartmouth High School Principal Ross Thibault said the current system is problematic for classes that build sequentially after each semester. It allows for entire year-long gaps between, for example, foreign language or mathematics classes, which can make it difficult for students to retain knowledge. Longer class periods also pose their own challenges.

“Designing lessons that truly engage adolescents for 86 minutes can be a challenge,” Thibault added.

To make the schedule work, lunches will be reduced to 22 minutes from the current 24 minutes, and a nutrition break will be eliminated.

“It’s to make sure we have that seven period and 50-minute length that was agreed upon in [Dartmouth Education Foundation] negotiations,” Thibault said.

Teachers will only hold classes for five of the seven periods. One period will be set aside for teacher prep, while another period will be devoted to participation in professional learning communities - dedicated time for educators to meet and discuss the curriculum.

The change does not come without challenges of its own, however. More classes in one day means more transitions from class to class, and it may increase student locker usage.

“Many of our students use lockers, but many of them don’t currently,” Thibault said. “With four courses you can carry your materials for the whole day with you.”

Elective choices could potentially be reduced by one a year, although Thibault noted with many students currently taking full-year classes and special programs many are not currently taking the full number of classes block scheduling allows to begin with.

High school administrators are currently finalizing necessary revisions to the 2018-2019 Program of Studies, and course selection is scheduled for early February. By April or May, tentative teacher schedules should be ready for the next year.

In June, after the senior class graduates, Thibault said he plans a test-run of the new schedule for a few days to get students used to the changes before heading to summer break.

School Committee members expressed their support for the changes, and weighed in on issues they foresee with the proposal.

“My personal opinion is this was long overdue in Dartmouth,” said member Chris Oliver. “We’re finally at a point where we’re talking about a timeline.”

Member Kathleen Amaral asked if homework requirements would be looked at with more classes structured in the day.

“That’s a conversation that I think, regardless of the schedule, needs to happen continuously in any high school,” Thibault said. “I think homework that deepens student learning is worthwhile, but homework just to give homework is not appropriate.”

Chair Shannon Jenkins noted the change could open up pathways to advanced mathematics courses, and highlighted the importance in reducing learning loss by eliminating year-long gaps in classes like foreign languages and mathematics.