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School board— Longer classes sought for PBL

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McKinney and Yellow Springs High School students will take almost half of their courses in long, interdisciplinary blocks next year if the school switches to a full block schedule. School administrators proposed the block schedule, as well as three new job positions that would be needed to accommodate it, at the school board meeting on Feb. 12. The schools need to decide this spring, for budgeting and union contract reasons, about the academic schedule they want for the 2015–16 school year.

According to YSHS Principal Tim Krier, a full block schedule, as the most recent proposal is called, would facilitate the kind of cross-disciplinary project-oriented learning the district has been trying to achieve since implementing project-based learning, or PBL, last year.

“If we can have this, it will allow those big projects to happen,” Krier said, referring, as an example, to a documentary on gun violence that model high school High Tech High in San Diego, Ca., created by incorporating research, media and real-life social and political advocacy.

Last year, the district implemented a partial block schedule, maintaining the regular schedule of seven classes on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and using Wednesdays and Thursdays for longer periods of just three to four classes each day. The hybrid schedule allowed more cross-course collaboration and project execution time and was a move in the right direction, Krier said of the feedback from teachers and staff. But a year and a half into the transition to PBL, the teachers feel there is still a need to increase the size, scope and interdisciplinary nature of PBL. Any schedule change would also need to maintain advanced placement, or AP, courses and other individualized options for older students, as well as provide one planning period each day for each teacher.

According to Krier, all of these goals could be achieved through a full block schedule of eight courses per year, four of which would be held on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Tuesday, Thursday biweekly rotation. For McKinney students, the blocks would be established without much individual choice. But as students advance through high school their individual options would increase to allow more specialized and advanced placement courses as well as internships and intersessions (experiential learning opportunities beyond the classroom), which the district is currently working to develop.

To accommodate the new schedule, the district would need to add a few teaching and staff positions at an estimated cost of $100,000 to $120,000 per year. First, the district would extend sustainable agriculture teacher Ms. Swinehart to full-time, accomplishing multiple goals of adding a period to the McKinney schedule, providing newly required vocational curricula for middle school students, and saving a small amount in salary costs (20 percent of Swinehart’s pay is covered by her home district at the Greene County Career Center).

Other new positions would be a part- time McKinney/YSHS choir teacher and a full-time aide for McKinney study halls and PBL foundations work.

According to Basora at the meeting, the proposal is positive but risky, and it will require funding.

“We believe we can do something transformational — that this schedule change would advance us significantly to being the PBL school that we want,” he said this week. “It will have an effect on our budget, though.”

School board member Steve Conn voiced enthusiasm for the proposal and committed to looking at the budget implications. Basora also stated that the district would look for potential budget cuts and revenue generators (such as growing open enrollment) that could be made to reduce the need for new money.

“We need to focus spending on what’s really important to our strategic plan,” he said at the meeting.

In other school board business:
• YSHS is planning a first-time academic trip to Rome and Paris over spring break 2016. Fourteen students have committed to the 9-day program that is tied into a six-month academic curriculum led by high school art-media teacher Elisabeth Simon and district librarian Eli Hurwitz. The trip is co-hosted by Education First Educational Tours and includes, for instance, guided visits to the Colosseum, Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, Notre Dame Cathedral, Champs-Elysees and the Louvre. The cost of the trip is $3,640, including all travel and lodging. The group can accommodate more students and encourages interested families to contact the school for information. Fundraising options have also been proposed to reduce the cost per student by $1,000.

• Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh announced that the after-school care program the school operates with the Community Children’s Center has partnered with community artists to extend enrichment opportunities in African drumming, a chess club, a choir, a media club with Project Peace leader Allison Paul, and other programming.

• Barbara Krabec and Naomi Orme are co-chairing the district’s 8-mill emergency levy renewal that would continue to generate a little over $1 million each year for the schools. The board approved the renewal request that will appear on the May 2015 ballot.

• The district is still working to complete its state and federal testing waiver application due to the State Education department on March 2.

• The district is still seeking a special education director to replace Barb Greiwe, who retires this year. The position will begin in the fall of 2015.

• YSHS will hold its annual Boys Night on Feb. 27, and Girls Night on Feb. 28. Mills Lawn held its Girls Night event for fifth and sixth graders on Feb. 13.

• The board approved contracts for baseball coach Ben Cooper and softball coach Jim DeLong at stipends of $1,888; tennis coach Donna Silvert at a stipend of $1,573; 7/8 grade track coaches Kirk Meekin and Peter Dierauer at stipends of $997; varsity boys track coach John Gudgel at a stipend of $4,294; and varsity girls track coach Isabelle Dierauer at a stipend of $3,252.

The board approved substitute teachers Jennifer Lyman, Brian Housh, Cora Kramer and Marie Homoki at a per diem stipend of $80.

The board also approved volunteer baseball coaches Mitch Clark, James Kitzmiller, Dean Severtson and Antone Truss; volunteer softball coaches Susan Ness, Shannon DeLong and Waring Worsham; and volunteer tennis coach Stacey Knemeyer.


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