Recently the principals from all three high schools in Citrus County released letters to all students and their families explaining that beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, Citrus County high schools will transition from a block schedule to a traditional 7-period school day. The move to a 7-period day follows a trend by a majority of high schools in Florida to move away from block schedules or other alternative schedules.
To understand this decision, it may help to know the history behind our county’s scheduling. For over a decade our Citrus County high school students have taken their high school classes based on a 4×4 “block” schedule. This meant a high school student took four high school classes/credits for the first semester (from Aug-Dec) and then four other high school credit classes in the second semester (from Jan-May). (Each of the four classes in a block schedule are 90 minutes in length for approximately 90 days. This is similar to a college schedule.) The only Citrus County program that did not follow the 4×4 block schedule was the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Lecanto High School. The IB students took their eight classes over 180 days on a “A-day” and then “B-day” rotation. This meant IB students took four classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and then four different classes on Tuesday and Thursday. This schedule existed because the IB organization mandates that IB courses be taught with concurrency not be divided into separate sets of “block” courses each semester.
From the beginning there have been pros and cons to the block schedule. While there were opportunities for students to take extra credits, to accomplish this classes had to be compressed into a single semester. This meant classes moved fast which was challenging for many traditional learning students, but especially for ESE and educationally-challenged students. To accommodate yearlong learning under the block some courses needed to “double up” (e.g., taking two classes of the same subject area such as Calculus Honors in semester one and AP Calculus in semester two or US Government Honors in semester one and AP US Government in semester two). It also meant that students would take state-mandated assessments or Advanced Placement (AP) tests (which are often required to be taken in May) months after the students had completed the courses and were no longer attending the class. In other situations, there was as much as a year and a half between a sequenced course which is particularly challenging for subjects like mathematics and foreign languages. In addition, in order to have the block schedule, it takes more teachers (approximately 10% more) than the 7-period schedule; it takes even more teachers to have a “A-Day/B-Day” schedule.
This past year, several issues made it necessary to take a serious look at whether the block was best serving our students. This fall the High School Directions Committee included moving to a 7-period day as one of its items to address. This committee is made up of every high school principal, head guidance counselor, curriculum assistant principal, directors from secondary/elementary education/ESE/technology curriculum/Research and Accountability, district subject area curriculum specialists, a teacher from the Citrus County Educational Association, Assistant Superintendent, a School Board member, and other curriculum personnel. I serve as the School Board representative on this committee. During the decision-making process I couldn’t have been more pleased as a Board Member and as a parent of a high school freshman at the amount of work and thought that went into this review. The committee agreed that a 7-Period schedule tended to be more effective for our traditional students and struggling learners. The 7-period schedule still provides our students with additional options for elective credits in such things as dual enrollment, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate while providing needed yearlong instruction for all students in Citrus County schools so they can be more successful. This schedule also provides that each of the 7-periods classes would gain approximately 1,000 minutes of additional instructional time. This time would be of great benefit to those students having to take a state-mandated high-stakes assessment. Furthermore, the committee reviewed the impact of the current teacher shortage on Citrus County high school classrooms. Because of this situation, there are classes across the district where a long-term, non-certified teacher is the only individual available to serve as the instructor. Student assessment results have shown that this has significantly influenced student learning and success. We must maximize the number of certified teachers in our most critical and hardest to find areas of English Language Arts, mathematics and sciences. A 7-Period schedule would improve this challenge.
The committee discussed whether it should be an option for one high school or program to have a separate schedule different from the other district high schools. It was unanimously agreed that all the schools and programs should be under the same schedule. There were too many disadvantages and challenges to have different schools on different schedules. As part of the process principals gathered input from high school teachers and School Enhancement Advisory Councils. The overwhelming consensus was that while the block schedule provided some benefits in the past, going to a 7-period high school schedule at this time was in the best interest of our students today and into the immediate future.
The most important question we must always ask when making tough decisions in educational leadership is, “What is best for the students?” I am grateful that the dialogue and decision regarding the move to a 7-period schedule in our high schools was centered on the needs of our students. I support this decision as I believe the best education experts and stakeholders have spent a great deal of time analyzing this issue from every angle.
Change is never easy. High school administrators, guidance counselors and program coordinators are available to address students’ and families’ questions regarding the transition to the 7-period schedule. We encourage you to please reach out to them to find specific information about your students’ academic plans. In addition, soon our high schools will send out next year’s course request forms that lead to the 2018-19 student class schedules. This is the critical first step in developing next year’s high school schedule and is why this decision needed to be made when it was. We again encourage students to get with their individual guidance counselors to begin this planning process. My personal experience has been that these family meetings with high school counselors and teachers have been invaluable and go a long way to easing concerns. I know our family will be scheduling one soon.