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Letter in Favor of the Proposed Dublin High School Schedule Change

The following letter to the editor in favor of the proposed schedule change was sent to OneDublin.org by a parent of children currently attending Dublin High School:

I am writing to you to advocate for the College and Career Readiness Plan (CCRP) that includes a 7 period day, as well as the Freshmen Seminar/Health combination that is currently being considered by the school board. I understand that there are still some uncertainties. Nobody expects the plan to go perfectly smoothly the first year. However, to scrap the plan, or even to put it off for another year, does our students, not to mention our teachers, a huge disservice.

There are currently 2069 students at DHS. Of those 2069 Students, 660 individual students have at least one D or F. That’s 32% of our kids. Thirty two percent! Just short of 1/3 of our students have at least one D of F. We pride ourselves on being a “high performing” school. How can we call ourselves a high performing school when 32% of our kids cannot maintain Cs or better? Last year’s D and F number was 711, which represented 37.44% percent of the students. With just the changes that were made in a single year, they have brought the D and F rate down from 37% to 32%. Think of what could be done when the resources and time are in place to help all students who are struggling in all subjects.

New for the 2015-2016 school year is open access to honors and AP classes. Let’s be honest – those classes are very difficult. Even students who have had to “test in” to those classes in the past have struggled. They are now allowing (and encouraging) any student with the desire to sign up for an AP or honors class. We talk endlessly about how our students are stressed now. How do you think students are going to feel when they take classes that are over their heads and they are given no additional support? Both the quality and quantity of work in the AP and honors courses is a HUGE jump from the regular courses. Highly qualified students struggle with those courses and now they are opening them up to the entire student body with no screening process. Kids are being encouraged to sign up for these courses because they give them the “college experience” (and the coveted grade bump), but unless some formal support system in place, they are setting these kids up to fail. College are getting more and more competitive, and our students need to have support in place. One or two mediocre grades, not even bad grades, can keep a student out of the college of his choice these days. We need to make sure we have a support system in place for all students.

The 7 period day fills this need for additional support, not only for AP/honors kids, but for the middle-of-the-road students as well. 504 students took an AP class this year. Many more took an honors class. Close 1/3 of the DHS students are in AP and honors courses, and that is likely to grow next year with the open access policy. That leaves about 1/3 of DHS students in the middle. They don’t have Ds and Fs, and they aren’t AP/honors kids. DHS needs to serve these kids, too. They need to offer them opportunities for improvement. This CCRP plan addresses the needs of all three groups of students, and it does so without stratifying the school. It builds in opportunities to:

  • get help from a tutor
  • meet with study groups
  • work on an individual or group project
  • start required reading
  • work on research for an essay
  • have someone read and critique an essay
  • get a jump on homework
  • meet with a teacher
  • make up a test
  • see a counselor
  • visit the career center
  • visit the new wellness center
  • have a snack

Students can get support not only from the tutors in the Hub, but from classroom teachers who are on their prep period, or from their own peers. This extra opportunity to work in peer groups is one of the most important benefits of this plan, and has been largely overlooked in the discussions so far. High school students are very social, and studies have shown that students working together on school work learn better and perform better on tests. (https://teaching.berkeley.edu/using-groups-classes-encouraging-study-groups, http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/5642.aspx, http://ctl.byu.edu/tip/encouraging-study-groups).

We have already seen through the longer lunch period that students are naturally coming together do work at lunch time. They are working independently side-by-side with their friends (remember the whole “parallel play” thing when they were little?) as well as working on group projects and collaborating on homework assignments. By the way, working together on homework is not at all the same things as cheating. “How do you do number four” or “did you get y=3cosX for number six” is not the same as “Can I copy your math homework.”

At the town hall meetings, a lot of parents said things like, “My child would never use his/her GAEL period to do homework. My child needs complete quiet to get anything accomplished.” To this I respectfully say that these parents might not really know their students as well as they think. In the WASC 2014 Parent/Student Survey, when asked the question, “I have used the longer lunch to complete homework or projects,” a whopping 73% of students choose “agree” or “strongly agree.” If students are taking advantage of lunch time to do homework, it is no stretch to say that they will be even more likely to take advantage of the GAEL period, when they are not allowed to leave campus, and when there are more resources and fewer students competing for those resources. 73% of our students are currently choosing to spend their lunch hour working. What percentage will use their GAEL period wisely? More than 73%, I would predict, and as this program becomes part of the DHS culture, that percentage will continue to grow.

This district talks a lot about making sure all of our students are college and career ready, and yet we still see that the students feel that the main goal is getting in to college. The goal shouldn’t be to get in. The goal should be to thrive once there, and to be successful beyond college, or in the career of their choice. With my two kids, I have now been on 10 formal college tours in three states. On every single tour, the campus guides touted the university’s free tutoring center. These tutoring centers are not just for students who are failing out of college. These are tutoring centers, many available 24/7, are for ALL students, and services include drop in tutoring, study groups, TAs available to read and critique papers, test prep sessions, and many other services. Students are actively encouraged to take full advantage of these centers so that they maintain high GPAs. Instilling this sort of culture at DHS lets all students know that tutoring is a resource, not a punishment. Got a B+ and want an A? Go to the Hub. Not sure if your essay is what the teacher is looking for? Go to the Hub. Need a little extra practice for this particular chemistry or math unit? Go to the Hub. Want to form a study group for Spanish, but the friends from your class have a different GAEL period? Go to the Hub. As this program grows, DHS families will wonder how we ever got along without it.

Currently, the school does not have the capacity during the school day to mandate that all 660 students with Ds and Fs come in for tutoring during lunch. They cannot get that many students into the Hub at a time, nor do they have enough tutors at any given time to support 600+ students. Further, according to the WASC 2014 Student/Parent Survey, only 42% of parents agree and 14% of parents strongly agree with the statement that “At risk students are given additional learning time and support to master state standards.” Clearly, there is room for improvement when it comes to providing during-the-day support for the students who are failing. To say that “those students” should come after school so that other students are not impacted by “those students” is short sighted and goes against every public education stands for. Many parents of high performing students with richly scheduled extra curricular lives say that their students don’t have time for a longer day. They say their students can’t spare 30 minutes added to the bell schedule to get 50 minutes more time during the school day. They would like to mandate that one third of the students stay an extra hour after school instead to get the help they need. How callous. Those 660 students also have things in their lives outside of the school day. They are also athletes. They are also dancers and artists. They also have jobs, and in some cases their jobs are helping keep their families afloat. In some cases they have childcare responsibilities for younger siblings while Mom and Dad are at work, because paying for outside childcare is not an option. So no, in addition to not having the bandwidth to tutor 660 students at once, having “those kids” stay an extra hour after school is not in the spirit of helping all students at Dublin High.

Right now, at lunch time, they are seeing a capacity of about 300 students in the Hub. That is more than will be in each GAEL period. Even if all students used the Hub during their GAEL period, there is enough capacity in the Hub. But they are also providing space in the Student Union, the Career Center, the collaboration spaces, and outside on nice days. This program is new, and it’s hard to envision, but I have faith in our students and in our administrators that the students will be where they are supposed to be, and that the few that try to game the system will be brought back in line very quickly. There is not a large population of students at DHS that are trying to sneak off campus, or are truant. If they aren’t doing it now, what makes us think they will be doing it next year? We have a population of hard working students with integrity at DHS, and we need to trust them until they prove untrustworthy. With the ID scanning software the school will roll-out in conjunction with the CCRP, I have faith the students will remain on campus, or will quickly find themselves in the “loss of privileges” category and will be held accountable.

DHS has a goal of helping freshman make the transition to high school, and that is being addressed in the FMP. The first year was a little bumpy, and changes are being made to that program going forward. As they learn from their experiences, that program will continue to be strengthened and will grow into something that will be a true benefit to incoming freshmen. Adding the Freshmen Seminar class will also go a long way towards making freshmen academically ready for the rigors of high school. I wish some of this content was taught in 6th or 7th grade, frankly, but unfortunately it’s not.

DHS has a stated plan of putting in place a new Wellness Center during the 2015-2016 school year, whether the CCRP goes forward or not. I contend that it makes very little sense to implement a wellness center that students have no opportunity to take advantage of. It defies logic to think that high-performing kids will choose to miss class, thereby getting further behind on their work, to visit a wellness center to get help with their mental health and stress issues. Moreover, to think that they will visit the wellness center after school if the CCRP fails to go through is false, as these overly scheduled, overly stressed students are from the same families that are complaining that they can’t possibly squeeze in an extra 30 minutes of on-campus time to extend the school day. The very small percentage of students and families who have spoken out at town hall and board meetings against the CCRP are by-and-large representative of a single subset of DHS families: that of students in AP/Honors classes who also have extra curricular activities. These are the very students who report the highest levels of stress. They are under the most pressure (whether internally or externally imposed) to perform, to take rigorous courses, to “do it all.” These are the students who need the Wellness Center, and these are the students who will tell you they have no time after school to take advantage of the Wellness Center. Just as the tutoring center can’t possibly handle all of the D/F students during lunch, the Wellness Center couldn’t possible handle all of the students who need wellness support during lunch.

In the WASC 2014 Student/Parent Survey, 88% of students agreed with the statement “Students at DHS are stressed.” Really – just shy of 90% of our kids feel stressed. That needs to be addressed, and they can’t possibly help those kids just at lunch time. At last year’s town hall meeting about this issue, I couldn’t help but marvel at the juxtaposition between two of the speakers. First, there was the gentleman who described his daughter’s day as starting with dance at 5am, followed by school, then more dance rehearsal, then finally homework until midnight. He capped off his statements by saying, with no apparent intended irony, that, “My daughter doesn’t need to relax – she doesn’t have time to relax!” Very soon after, a student in an eerily similar circumstance spoke, close to tears, as she described how much this GAEL Period would help her by giving her a chance to not only seek out the help she needs to figure out her academic path through DHS, but just take a breath during the day. I wonder if the parents might be just a little out of touch about how much stress their students are under, and about how much this period might be useful to them.

Finally, there’s the issue of growth. I know that the CCRP is not being driven by growth, but this plan certainly helps the issue. Having 250 fewer students in each academic period eases the stress on the sciences classrooms just a little bit. In addition, the 7 period schedule (particularly the option with the 53 minute class periods) sets up the option of 2 lunch periods in future years without having to have yet another schedule change. I don’t know why we wouldn’t want to go with the option that gives us the greatest flexibility going forward. If this CCRP doesn’t go through, then some time in the next couple of years some schedule change will have to happen to accommodate growth, and we will be right back in the middle of town hall meetings and angry parents who are opposed to change.

I do have one concern about the program, and that is that the freshmen will have a very long day with this program. I would hope that the school will do everything possible to schedule the freshmen into 3rd, 4th, or 5th period PE so that they get their academic subjects broken up a little. Scheduling them into 1st or 7th period PE would do them a bit of a disservice, and with the break sophomores will get with their GAEL period, it would be better to put sophomores into 1st and 7th PE.

There is tremendous enthusiasm on the part of the high school faculty for this program. 75% of the high school teachers support going forward with this change. That is astounding to me. That means that the overwhelming majority of our teachers are in favor of losing a few minutes of class time to give all students the gift of a GAEL period. Surprisingly, the 25% of teachers that were not supportive included the PE teachers. I’m not sure why. Unsurprisingly, some of the lab teachers (science, cooking, art) were also concerned about losing classroom minutes, and I understand their concerns. However, the science lead teachers were supportive and felt that accommodations could be made. This is in no way a knock on teachers, but getting any group the size of the DHS faculty to support a change this all encompassing is huge. Getting a group of teachers to support a culture change this big, with the amount of work and schedule change it means for them seems almost unprecedented to me. That, more than anything, tells me that we are on the right track with this program.

Will this program be perfectly implemented next year? No, I don’t believe so. No matter what year it is implemented, the first year will have “teachable moments” and things they will learn to do better. But sometimes “perfect” gets in the way of “really good.” If we wait until we have a perfect implementation plan, this program will never be implemented, and we will go through this turmoil and uncertainty every year for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, our kids will still struggle, even though we have a very good plan for helping them now.

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