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State legislation brings changes

New laws are causing dilemmas regarding bell schedules

Micheal Cochran and Fiona Huse, Staff Reporters
Originally published January 21, 2015

Althea Billings

Althea Billings

Washington State has more influence on education than one might think. Passing laws with the aim of increasing students’ instructional hours and graduation requirements, the state legislature has been busy the past few sessions.

These legislative decisions will be causing changes at Ballard. The 2013 legislature ruling RCW 28A.150.220 imposed new education requirements in schools. Another new law, WAC 180-51-068, will creates new high school graduation requirements.

Both require the school’s administration to rework the schedule, including the possible omission of break and early dismissal days.

RCW 28A.150.220 outlines the basic education requirements in Washington. New changes to Washington’s legal code are requiring schools to have at least 1,080 hours of instruction time each year. The thought was that extra teacher instruction would help improve education statewide.

“What’s going to improve education is letting teachers do what they need to do,” language arts teacher Kristin Storey said. “We need hours in the day to grade those papers, to get that feedback back to [students]. We don’t have those hours.”

The 1,080 hour requirement equates to 180 six-hour school days. “We currently have about 1,050 hours per year,” Principal Keven Wynkoop said. “Which means we would need to add a full 10 minutes to each school day next year.”

A simple solution may be the elimination of the school break after second period. However, a student survey passed out in October indicated that break was important to the majority of students.

Professional development days are another likely cut from next year’s schedule. These are days set aside each month for teachers to meet and plan. For students these days are an early dismissal.

Storey is a fan of professional development days and the extra work time they provide. “The beauty of the built in daytime hours is the element of not feeling rushed, and getting paid for it,” Storey said. “There’s just that idea of being able to have designated time to do the level of work that it takes to continue to improve.”

The law could take effect in the 2014-2015 school year, but there may be an alternative option. Lawmakers have looked at the law since it originally passed, and decided that school districts can average out the required 1,080 hours of school with the elementary school’s 1,000 hours. Seattle Public School’s average comes out to about 1,030 hours.

The district has not decided whether or not they want to average or push ahead with 1,080 hours.

This new law isn’t the only option to consider. The second law, WAC 180-51-068, changes school graduation requirements for the class of 2018-19; this year’s eighth grade class.

The new law requires 24 credits for graduation, opposed to the 21 that are currently required. Ballard currently offers a maximum of 24 credits, but unless the schedule changes to allow more credits, students will be required to pass every single one of their classes, every year, in order to reach the requirement.

It is unrealistic to expect each student to take and pass the maximum classes that are available.

Although this was to go into effect for the class of 2019, the legislature understood that this was a quick change for districts to make. They allowed districts to apply for a waiver that would push this to the graduating class of 2020. Seattle Public Schools has applied, but until they hear back from the state, things are still undecided.

The schedule that is chosen, however, will be different with the two laws. Since it looks like the 1,080 hour requirement could be avoided, the most obvious choice is to choose a bell schedule that will correspond to the stipulation of 24 credits, since that will be happening within the next two years.

The most straightforward answer might be a block schedule. Students would most likely have the option to take seven or eight classes at a time, rather than the six that are offered now.

Students, with seven or eight courses, would take classes on alternating days. They could have half on one day and the other half the next day.

This would give students the chance to earn 24 credits without taking the maximum amount of classes offered, while maintaining the reading period that is currently offered.

“One thing we’ve been playing with is a modified block, where two days of the week it’s block period and three days of the week it’s straight six [periods].” Communications Director, Carrie Burr said.

Freshman Maddy Agranoff thinks that block schedules are the way to go. “It’s a more productive schedule,” Agranoff said. “It’s a smart way to do it.”

Other students are not as excited. Junior Sebastian Smith has had previous experience with block schedules. “I like the current schedule more than block schedules. I’m not able to sit there for that long a period of time,” Smith said.

Ballard’s Instructional Council and Building Leadership Team have met a few times to decide whether or not they want to test out a new schedule in the 2015-16 school year.

Changing immediately would give the school a year to test out a new schedule and have a refined schedule by the 2016-17 school year, possibly resulting in a  schedule change two years in a row.

“I had this at my old school, we were a four-by-four. I loved it. I taught P.E. and it was great,” Burr said. “I can’t say what it would be like to teach math or a core subject like that… It’s intense, but I feel like the learning is better.”

As of now, the administration has no concrete changes going into effect, but it is unclear when they will happen and the IC and BLT are trying hard to keep the start and end times the same.

The district should hear back from the state regarding the waiver within the next few months. Regardless, Wynkoop needs to have a decided schedule within a fair amount of time.

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State legislation brings changes