DeSoto schools going to block schedule next year

Published 12:44 am Tuesday, February 17, 2009

All DeSoto County high schools will be changing over to block scheduling next year, the same system used by the top five high schools in the U.S.

The new modular schedule, commonly called “4 x 4,” consists of four blocks of time and four classes per semester.

Under the alternative schedule, classes will generally last about 90 minutes, nearly doubling the district high schools’ current class time of 47 minutes.

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Jennifer Weeks, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for DeSoto County Schools, said the district’s decision to switch to the new block schedule came after much research and visits to other high-performing schools that use the same or similar system.

“Perhaps the most critical time allocation issue schools face is the indisputable fact that some students need more time to learn than others.

The extended instructional periods provide more opportunities for less fragmented, more in-depth study. And with the increased rigor in the curriculum, additional instructional time is needed to reach the designated objectives,” Weeks said.

Schools superintendent Milton Kuykendall said, “About 78 percent of all successful high schools in the United States are on some type of block schedule. Teachers view the major strengths of the block as having greater flexibility in instructional activities due to longer class time. They also believe that block scheduling offers students the best program to maximize the number of course offerings.

“I believe in making changes if it will improve student achievement.”

Kuykendall said while there are no DeSoto County Schools currently on block schedule, Horn Lake High School was on block schedule several years ago and it was successful.

“Our (academic) scores went from last to first,” said Kuykendall, who formerly served as the school’s principal.

The school decided to end the block schedule due to a shift in the district’s grading period from six weeks to nine weeks.

The new scheduling allows students to earn a year’s credit in 18 weeks by extending the class time in each subject. This means students can earn eight credits per year as opposed to seven for an additional four credits over four years of high school.

The eight-semester sequence also allows more advanced students the opportunity to complete higher-level courses and to earn college credits through dual enrollment.

It gives students an opportunity to retake any failed required courses as well. For example, a student who fails ninth-grade English in the spring can retake the course the following fall and rejoin his classmates in the following spring.

Worst case scenario-a junior still has the opportunity to earn four credits each in English, math, laboratory science, and social studies.

Also under the new schedule, the number of credits required for graduation will rise to 24 for next year’s entering ninth-graders, Weeks said.

As for teachers, the modular schedule will free up more time for classroom planning and preparation as they will continue to teach six classes but only three per semester.

It will also enable teachers to become better acquainted with students — teaching between 75 and 90 students each day instead of 150 to 180 students.

Weeks said teachers will receive extensive training before the new scheduling is implemented. They will be encouraged and supported in exploring a variety of instructional methods to differentiate instruction.