Modified Bell Schedule Reflects Mandated Hours

Taylor-Joan Fonoti (10), Travis Sudog (11), and Kristin Watson (10) measure ingredients for their Culinary practical exam which involves following a recipe for beef stroganoff. 
“85-minute periods are beneficial especially in elective classes as it allows additional, meaningful learning through cooking labs and more difficult recipes,” culinary teacher Tiffany Petersen said.

Taylor-Joan Fonoti (10), Travis Sudog (11), and Kristin Watson (10) measure ingredients for their Culinary practical exam which involves following a recipe for beef stroganoff. “85-minute periods are beneficial especially in elective classes as it allows additional, meaningful learning through cooking labs and more difficult recipes,” culinary teacher Tiffany Petersen said.

Hanh Pham, Editor

Radford High School students returned to school this year to a modified bell schedule that keeps them in classes longer than in previous years. A new bell schedule implemented this year releases students as late as 2:50 p.m on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and keeps them in classes for 85-minutes four days a week.

In 2011, Governor Neil Abercrombie signed Act 52, an amendment to Act 167, mandating that the Department of Education, excluding charter and multi-track schools, implement a school year that includes a minimum number of school days and student instructional hours that increase over time.

After compiling bell schedules from schools, it was discovered that the average number of hours spent in school for the 2012-2013 school year was 889.

With Abercrombie’s signature, Hawaii public schools, during the 2014-2015 school year, now require 180 days and 990 hours of instructional time for their students. By the 2016-2017 school year, it is expected to increase to 190 days and 1080 hours of instructional time.

Rams resumed school in August when consistent temperatures in high 80s and low 90s make 85-minute periods uncomfortable for teachers and students in classrooms.

English teacher Andy Jones purchased a thermometer at the beginning of the school  year and records daily temperature readings in his class. “I have managed to ascertain, over the past month of investigations that the average temperature on the Radford HS campus between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m, during the first quarter of the school-year, is about 88.5 – at least for those teaching on the first floor. We’ve seen a low of 87 during this period and a high of 91,” Jones said. “[It’s] pretty consistent.”

Zachariah Toloumu (12) said that it is difficult for him to pay attention and stay awake in class. “If it wasn’t really humid or hot, then I wouldn’t mind.”

Social studies teacher Gwynne Johnson said that the heat, at one time, was so unbearable at school she fainted. “I have very high blood pressure…I refuse to go to the gym anymore when it’s that hot,” she said.  “I went home one time last week. I fainted because I was so dehydrated.”

But it doesn’t appear as though Radford will be installing air conditioning in every classroom anytime soon. According to administration, it will be a long process, and students may not get AC for three to five more years due to problems with electrical output. Assistant Principal Albert Hetrick said that having AC would be great, but it isn’t feasible during this time.

“This school was built in the 50s. It’s not meant to run five computer labs [or] computers in every classroom,” said Principal James Sunday. “You may not know it, but buildings will trip during the day.”

While challenges in comfort exist in most classes, Shawn Barrett (12) acknowledges some benefits with longer class periods.

“Students have more time to receive help from teachers. With more time in class, electives are able to go more in depth in their lessons. In PE, team sports allow extra time to play and change without worrying about being late. In culinary, those extra minutes allow us more time to cook and clean up,” he said.

Culinary teacher Tiffany Petersen sees 85 minutes as beneficial. “…especially in elective classes, as it allows additional, meaningful learning through cooking labs and more difficult recipes. The extra minutes also enable students to take their time using their skills to turn in quality work and clean stations efficiently for later use.”

In order to facilitate implementation of Act 52 and 167, Hawaii Department of Education assessed “current student learning time,” and the “impact of student learning time on achievement measures,” also surveying “national data and studies” to better understand the relationship. Additionally, costs of increasing learning time and modifying the bell schedule were taken into consideration.

Resultantly, a committee comprised of complex area superintendents, principals, vice principals, registrars, and district officers were tasked with selecting model bell schedules that would comply with the mandatory 1650 minutes of student learning time per week. These were submitted for review to school administration.

Last year, anticipated new schedules were also shown to students in advisory classes. By the end of the year, it was clear that some students were discontent with the incoming lengthened class periods.

“I felt confused, cause… it was fine the way it was,” said Bradley Saito (12).

The Acts purpose aren’t clear, although furloughs that occurred in SY 2009-2010 may have been a factor.

“[The Acts are] about student instructional time,” Assistant Principal Albert Hetrick said.  It may have been to ensure that “furloughs wouldn’t happen again.”

“We know that students don’t really want to stay in school longer,” Hetrick said, “but it’s the law.”

Students aren’t the only ones concerned. Preliminary study of these proposed schedules was conducted by school registrars and principals. According to a legislative report, “registrars…identified issues regarding the feasibility of implementing the bell schedules within the parameters of a school environment.”

This committee reported that possible impacts would be: increasing teachers’ workdays, lessening time for co-curricular activities, such as athletics, learning centers, band programs, along with individualized learning programs, focus on learning groups, and professional learning communities programs. Other concerns were the safety of students who travel earlier and later to and from schools, financial consequences (pay for teachers, school staff, librarians, counselors, janitors), and high school students need for meal or snack with longer day.

Adaliah Collins (10), who lives outside the school district, said that safety and time are issues for her. “[The schedule is] terrible. It makes it very inconvenient for the students who go here with a geographic exception, like myself. Since I take the city bus home, I’m not always guaranteed to get on the bus. As soon as I get to a bus stop, it could be an hour before a bus comes, and then a two-hour drive home. So, the extra time added to classes isn’t really helpful for me.”

In order to comply with school schedule requirements, DOE has to negotiate with Hawaii State Teachers Association.

DOE Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said, ”Our best estimate is that these additional days would cost the department close to $6 million. That figure includes salary, utility, maintenance and other operational costs.”

Troy Freitas, HSTA representative at Radford High School, said that if teachers are not content with their situation, the issue can be addressed in several ways. In the simplest cases, it may be one conversation where the teacher expresses his or her concern to a representative. On the highest level, it could be taken to HSTA and their lawyers, and there would be a long negotiating process with the Board of Education.

However, although a discussion may take place between the HSTA and the Board of Education,  “the state can ultimately say no,” said Freitas. “Then, our only option is to call strike.”

Having a strike entails refusing to work because employees feel that their rights are being denied. But the consequence is that teachers may lose out on the paycheck that they need. “So, strike is really a last resort, if it’s totally unfair…so we try to get the best we can as a union,” Freitas said.

Currently, DOE and HSTA are looking to repeal the bill that is increasing instructional hours and lengthen the school year. According to the HIDOE website, “DOE officials had testified before the Senate Education committee on SB 2139, which would require all public secondary schools to implement a school year that includes 990 hours beginning with the 2014-15 school year and repeals the requirement that by the 2016-2018 school years, all public schools implement a school year of 180 days and 1,080 student instructional hours for both elementary and secondary school grade.”

The study conducted by the DOE in 2013, also sought to understand if longer class periods would have a positive impact on academic performance. For SY 2011-2012 and SY 2012-2013, a chart was created to graph data between Student Growth Percentile and hours spent in school. The chart was inconclusive, as it did not appear to show relation between hours in school and student’s test scores; and the DOE will continue to conduct studies to gain more reliably conclude if there is a correlation between academic accomplishment and learning hours.

According to HSTA testimony before the Senate Committee in March of this year, “Increases in instructional time have never been proven to positively correlate with learning growth.”

Prior to the two Acts, principals had the authority to construct a schedule that “are responsive to the needs of their students and community.” However, this legislation restricts control that Radford’s administration may have in deciding the school’s bell schedule.

Teachers have also presented different opinions on the change in Radford’s schedule. Freitas, who teaches Peer Education, can see that lengthier classes are difficult for students.

“It’s too long. Not for me necessarily, I can do it, but…I think 60 minute classes is just perfect for kids,” Freitas said. “Like people who do science, who do labs, they like the long period. But I, personally, would like shorter periods.”

Other teachers believe that increased time spent in classrooms will be beneficial in the long run. As a teacher who has worked in the mainland and has experienced classes that usually last for 90 minutes, social studies teacher Jason Fatz said, “I’m a big advocate for the longer class periods.”

Fatz believes that once teachers realize what they can do with the additional time, where students are “moving around the classroom or doing the activities that sort of make learning exciting [it will] help to change students’ attitudes” to accept longer periods.

As the new schedule was implemented, faculty experienced problems in adapting to effects on workload. Teachers are contracted to stay until 2:55 p.m. Last year, school let out around 2:10 p.m. everyday, except for Thursdays and Fridays, where students were released at 1:30 p.m. This allowed teachers to take advantage of  hours after school to grade and prepare for upcoming lessons.

“I think in order to offset and help the teachers to manage the workload, that two prep periods, meaning teachers taught five classes instead of six of the seven…would help to balance the workload,” Fatz said.

Administration has also been impacted by the schedule, and may often remain at school until 5:00 p.m. The new schedule “cuts back time on meetings and professional development,” Principal Sunday said.

Johnson said, “I’m sure there’s a way to improve on [the new schedule] but for everything we’ve had…it’s the best I know so far.”