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School board— School of rock replaces ‘flex’

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An overwhelming majority of Yellow Springs High School students last fall voiced disappointment with part of a new scheduling system that was implemented at the beginning of the school year. So as a student body, they organized to change it. Now, instead of the unpopular “flex period” each week, students can choose between activities such as rocket modeling, yoga, beading crafts and playing in a rock band.

School leaders discussed the shift at the most recent Yellow Springs school board meeting on Feb. 13. According to YSHS Principal Tim Krier, the student review board managed the shift in a respectful and organized way and worked with teachers to create an alternative to “flex” with interest-led workshops.

“It feels like we’re tending to students’ needs in ways that we haven’t before. And we’re holding the kids accountable,” he said.

The flex period came from a need to fill a two-hour period every Thursday during block schedule days, or days with extended periods for regular classes. The school had used the two-hour Thursday flex to work on group dynamic skills necessary for project-based learning. Students in grade 7–12 met for assemblies and workshops on the topic. But they were becoming increasingly impatient with the theories, evidenced by several anti-flex letters published in the fall issue of the “Watchdog,” the high school’s news magazine.

At the end of fall semester, students and teachers worked together to propose about 10 workshops students could join on Thursdays. Some examples included a survival skills workshop led by student Grant Reigelsperger and teacher/long-time School Forest coordinator John Day, a school of rock led by study hall tutor Paul Comstock, a digital poetry group, rocket modeling club, yoga, knitting, indoor sports, and beading for profit with special education coordinator Barb Greiwe.

“It’s a clever way to use the time to do creative things,” school board member Steve Conn said.

The interest-based workshops have allowed the students to apply their group dynamic skills, Krier said, which according to a few students and teachers present at the board meeting, was a natural way to integrate the “flex” lessons. Teachers are also pleased with the way PBL skills are being implemented and supported.

“Morale is crazy high. We’re being challenged as a staff, and it’s an exciting place to work,” Krier said.

In more school board business:

• Mills Lawn school received an $11,356 grant from the Yellow Springs Endowment for Education to complete Project Peace 2, the second phase of a K–6 art project to honor historic figures who have promoted peace in the world. This year’s project includes a music residency, video and audio components and other artistic media and stresses student leadership and creating a culture of inclusion and peacemaking within the school.

Superintendent Mario Basora reported that two of the school’s recent grant requests from Yellow Springs Endowment for Education have been rejected. He voiced frustration with the schools’ lack of understanding about how YSEE grants are approved. Teachers also have been frustrated, which discourages them from applying for funds, he said.

YSEE board representative Sylvia Ellison agreed to get more information about the grants approval process.

• Basora reported that bullying incidents (narrowly defined as targeted and persistent) are down significantly from 10 this time last year to five this year. The reduction occurred after the start of project-based learning, the district’s new learning model that encourages peer collaboration and group learning. The coincidence isn’t necessarily causal, but correlative.

“It’s consistent with conversations I’ve had with the principals in each of the buildings — a lot of it is related to the cultural changes we’re making,” Basora said.

• The board approved a leave of absence for McKinney math and science teacher Jack Hatert, who is currently absent from Jan. 31 to March 14. The long-term substitute teacher is Linda Hallinan. The board also approved Darryl Dewer as a class VII-A full-time bus driver to replace former bus driver Ruth Peterson.

The board also approved limited teaching contracts to substitute teachers Lori Gravely-Novello and Elisabeth Hirtzinger at a stipend of $80 per day.

• The board approved extracurricular contracts for one acts coordinator Ara Beal ($734); musical tech advisor James Johnston ($734); and choreographer Valerie Blackwell Truitt ($472).

The board also approved athletic contracts for baseball coach Ben Cooper ($1,888); softball coach Jim DeLong ($1,888); varsity boys track coach John Gudgel ($4,294); varsity girls track coach Vince Peters ($4,294); tennis coach Donna Silvert ($1,888); McKinney boys track coach Peter Dierauer ($997); McKinney girls track coach Isabelle Dierauer ($997); as well as volunteer baseball coaches Mitch Clark and Matthew Collins; softball coaches Shannon DeLong, Maria Prether and Waring Worsham; and in the case there is a bowling team, bowling coach Matt Cole.

• Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh presented a retirement award to Patricia Spracklen for her 31 years of teaching, 22 of which were focused on special education in Yellow Springs.

• The board approved the McKinney eighth-grade trip to Cincinnati May 8–9.

• The board scheduled a work session on March 27 at 7 p.m. to talk about fundraising, which is priority 4 in the strategic plan, and related topics.

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