School board members Fuzzy Minnix (Cave Spring representative) and Drew Barrineau (Windsor Hills representative) and school superintendent Dr. Lorraine Lange held a community meeting last night at Hidden Valley High School at 7 p.m.
The meeting provided a platform for parents (and students, many of whom received extra credit for attending) to voice concerns about school policies and receive answers for any questions they might have.
In his opening remarks, Barrineau noted that the school board anticipates additional funding reductions for next year. He also urged students and parents to “get behind the school system” by writing letters or emails of support and voting in local elections.
Community members then had the chance to ask questions. Parents wanted to know more about several topics.
Read on for a recap of questions and answers from the meeting.
Progress at Cave Spring Middle School
Dr. Lange said that they hope to be finished in time for the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Whether the school will be ready by next fall will be determined by the weather this winter; if the weather is mild, the construction will remain on schedule.
Response from students and teachers to block scheduling
Barrineau noted that he had lunch with 12 HVHS students–three from each grade level–last Friday, during which time he asked them about the block scheduling. Of those 12 students, Barrineau said, no one stated that they didn’t like the block scheduling. While this may not be indicative of the opinions school-wide, “block scheduling has allowed 90 percent of the students to take an extra class,” Barrineau said.
HVHS assistant principal Josh Whitlow said that “exciting things are happening in the classrooms” and noted that both Hidden Valley and Cave Spring teachers met with a specialist who taught them strategies to implement to take full advantage of the block scheduling.
Effectiveness of block scheduling at the middle school level
HVMS principal Ken Nicely said that the block scheduling system has been “tailored to the needs of the students at that age.” At the middle school level, three core classes meet each day and the electives meet every other day. “The kids are staying on top of whether it’s an A or a B day,” Nicely said.
Length of the classes during block scheduling at the middle school level
Concerns were voiced about whether the classes at the middle school level are too long for attention spans at that age–double block classes are 95 minutes long. Teachers are encouraged to provide movement breaks during the 95 minutes, Nicely said, but fewer class changes now that Cave Spring sixth and seventh graders share the school has been “a blessing.” The students are stopping and starting less frequently.
Dr. Lange added that Roanoke County schools are moving towards project-based learning rather than lectures. She also noted that the block scheduling provides immediate benefits for the students: remediation and acceleration are available for students within the block rather than after school. Teachers are seeing benefits as well, as they’re able to find more time in the day for planning periods, according to Lange.
“Because block scheduling is new,” said Minnix, “we may be reluctant to embrace it. But it will help prepare students for college because that’s exactly what they’ll be doing in college.”
Is there too much time between classes for reinforcement with block scheduling?
Barrineau and Lange noted that there is research to support block scheduling and the old schedule of seven classes each day, but from academic, instructional and budget standpoints, block scheduling seemed like the better plan. The majority of schools in Virginia use block scheduling.
“Block scheduling allows for remediation during one block every other day,” Barrineau said. “Time will tell if block scheduling works well.”
Dr. Lange mentioned the employee advisory committee, which allows employees the opportunity to send in concerns about the school system, anonymously or not.
Is there a way for students to give feedback?
There is also a student advisory committee that meets once a month, with representatives from all middle and all high schools in Roanoke County. Dr. Lange promised to speak with school principals about getting the word out to students about the advisory committees.
Did the school board consider any other system than block scheduling?
The school board looked at a modified four by four (where students take four classes one semester and another four second semester) and many other systems, and board members and Dr. Lange visited all kinds of schools, Dr. Lange said.
The principals at the middle schools were encouraged to bring their concerns about the scheduling to the school board. Barrineau said that he is “big on site-based management. The principals know their students, they know their needs. [We asked them] how can the board support you at the school level.”
“We represent your interests on the school board. Year-round schooling would have to be a community-driven initiative,” Barrineau said.
“We haven’t looked at it,” Lange said. The possibility of year-round schooling is a rumor.
The 10-point grading scale
“We’ve had no response from teachers, neither positive nor negative,” said Whitlow. “This year, we’re trying to get different teachers teaching the same class to use as many of the same grading practices as possible.”
“The primary thrust to go to a 10-point grading scale came from a student,” Minnix added.
“The time was right,” Barrineau said. The school board aligned the curriculum with Virginia Western Community College and the Governor’s School, both of which operate on a 10-point grading scale.
Revised cell phone policy
Principals at the schools proposed that the school board allow students to use their cell phones before school, after school and during lunch with the hope that this will cut out usage during instructional hours, according to Lange.
Schools would pilot the policy change this semester, if the school board approves it at next Thursday’s meeting, Lange said.
“Times are changing,” Barrineau said. “We might need to change too.”