Revised on: 06.18.2018 at 11:22 a.m.
Posted on: 06.16.2018 at 03:00 p.m.
By Diana Matthews
When classes resume at West Columbus High School on Aug. 27, students will experience a new daily schedule. “West Quest” is the result of two years of investigation by WCHS’ School Improvement Team, led by history and social studies teacher John Browning.
About a dozen WCHS faculty members attended the county school board meeting Monday, June 4, to present the expected benefits of the new schedule. The board approved West Quest.
What it is
The proposed changes, Browning said, are “part of new education initiatives geared toward student remediation and enrichment. This new initiative, now known as the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), requires schools to implement a concrete plan for scheduling remediation and enrichment for students of all achievement levels.”
Browning, along with lead teacher Amanda Leggett and math teacher W.T. Edwards II, told how they had examined various plans used at different schools and weighed the viability of each for WCHS.
Leggett described teachers as “juggling” to find time for the required remediation for students who need it while also in the same class period meeting the needs of students who have mastered a concept and are ready to move on.
During the 2017-2018 school year, Edwards discovered a block schedule used at Northern Nash High School. It provided four long class periods for core subjects, three being in the morning and one at the end of the day. Sandwiched between the third and fourth periods are three shorter periods to be used for lunch, remedial instruction and elective enrichment activities.
School improvement team members explained that teachers would have the option to lock students in to required remedial sessions, such as tutoring or make-up tests, based on the student’s recent work difficulties.
Whiteville High School also investigated NNHS’s “power schedule” and implemented it in January. NNHS provides a technical support program they developed that allows teachers and students to log in to a website each evening and set the next day’s schedule.
At WHS, team members said, activity sign-up time begins at 9 p.m., and by 9:05, most of the students have set their three flexible periods.
WCHS will use the same platform, Browning said. “By being one of the first 10 schools to implement this plan, WCHS secured the technical support and oversight for a locked-in fee of $1000 per school year.”
The team made careful observations in both in Nash County and at WHS. They noted the ease of monitoring student movement and the favorable attitude of both students and faculty toward the power schedule. Students at both schools had shown increased attendance and classroom performance, Browning said, along with “a decrease in disciplinary referrals and the fourth-period malaise that is common among high school students.”
State law requires students to receive a minimum of 1024 hours of instruction during the year. In spite of shaving a few minutes off the longer classes, West Quest will more than satisfy the hour requirement.
As Edwards pointed out to the school board, some of the elective activities could be counted as instructional time, making the total hours that much more than the law requires.
In addition,” Edwards said, “this schedule will allow teachers to provide consistent remediation and enrichment on a daily basis without the usual conflicts with transportation and extra-curricular activities.”
Leggett explained that someone needs to oversee the tracking system, but that it would mean more work than a fulltime classroom teacher or administrator could spare. She, as lead teacher, would undertake the job and would receive support from the Northern Nash team as needed.
“Ms. Michele Haigler will continue to construct student schedules as normal,” said Browning, “as the traditional four class periods will remain intact. It is important for all parents and students to understand that instruction time in all classes will remain the same, with all students taking and completing core and elective classes as normal.
Class times will be reduced from 90 minutes to 78 minutes, with classroom instruction augmented by the new sessions.
“It is also important that parents and students understand that remediation and enrichment sessions are requirements that must be met under MTSS Standards, and that each high school must develop and implement a time for these activities.”
In other words, students are required to attend remediation if their teachers schedule it for them. They are required to choose a lunch period, and they are required to show up for whatever electives they pick.
Any students who fail to sign up for activities will be assigned to detention during their short periods, said Browning and Principal Jeffrey Greene. Detention will be a phone-free, no-talking, no-food or drink zone where the students can work on assignments and think about what they are missing.
Whiteville City Schools superintendent Kenny Garland has stated that Pack Power has been advantageous academically to WHS students in its first semester.
Garland also emphasized that the accountability built into the system has helped students to take responsibility for their own achievements and use of time. Students feel motivated to stay up to date in their assignments so that they can enjoy the reward of chess club or a bridge-building competition.
A good first semester
Olivia Scott, coordinator of WHS’ Pack Power, said that, “It provides plenty of time for doing things outside the norm.” If not receiving extra instruction, students can attend club meetings, rehearse for a play, study boating safety or forestry, perform scientific experiments, knit or practice yoga during the brief mid-day sessions, all “without having to worry about transportation.”
Scott and her colleagues “absolutely” are pleased with their first semester of the flexible schedule, she said. “In my opinion, and in Guidance’s opinion, we’ve had a significant increase in proficiency levels, and the kids love it.”
Members of the county school board asked Browning and his WCHS colleagues how the school day would run in case of an inclement weather delay and how students with limited internet access would sign up for the next day’s activities. The team answered all questions to the board’s satisfaction.
Board members praised the team for involving teachers from all areas of study and demonstrating clear thinking and problem solving. They expressed confidence that WCHS faculty could make West Quest work for their students in the 2018-2019 year.