IW school board OKs redesigned high school schedules

Published 7:02 pm Friday, January 17, 2020

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Isle of Wight County Schools is moving forward with a plan to redesign its high school schedules next school year, though the decision to do so was not unanimous.

The proposed “alternating” schedule, as it is being called, would allow students who wish to pursue one of the school division’s career and technical education programs to take one week of academic classes, followed by spending all day, every day in a single CTE course or internship the following week.

The single CTE course would continue through the entire school year, as opposed to the current semester-long classes. Students who are not enrolled in any CTE courses will be unaffected by the redesign.

On Thursday, the school board voted 3-2 in favor of the new schedule, which had first been proposed in April 2017. The dissenting votes came from Carrsville District board member Jackie Carr and Windsor District member Julia Perkins. Carr, coincidentally, is the new chairwoman of the board this year, and Perkins is the new vice chairwoman.

On the positive side, the new schedule would allow CTE students the time needed to complete industry certifications by the time they finish high school, thereby increasing the number of students who could potentially go directly into the workforce after graduation, Carr said. However, the fact that the schedule is geared toward allowing students to pursue a single CTE discipline over all four years of high school could mean fewer slots available for students who may be uncertain about their career goals and wish to explore a CTE program or switch CTE disciplines, she cautioned. The new schedule could also bring a need for more CTE instructors, which she said could potentially increase the division’s budget.

“We can’t just assume we’re going to get additional funds, so what are our budgetary priorities?” Carr asked. “More and more children are coming to school with special needs, issues that have compromised our learning environment … will we need more funds to support these growing needs?”

“We had many of our teachers begin this year at capacity in their classrooms,” she continued. “The alternating schedule could be the best decision, but at this time, with the possible disadvantages and not looking at other options, I don’t think I can support it at this time.”

Smithfield High School Principal Zachary Haney refuted Carr’s assertion that he and Windsor High School Principal Laura Sullivan had not considered any other potential schedule redesigns in their research.

“To say we haven’t explored any other options, we have,” Haney said.

The schedule, the two principals said, is based on a model developed at the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School in Bourne, Massachusetts, which has used an alternating academic/CTE schedule for the past 18-plus years. Upper Cape Tech, according to Robert Dutch, superintendent of that school, has a 100-percent on-time graduation rate, with upwards of 95 percent of students finding full-time employment within one year after graduation.

Sullivan further clarified that incoming ninth graders won’t necessarily have to commit to four years in a single program in order to take CTE. Students would be able to drop out of the CTE program completely at the end of their freshman year and go back to a traditional four-block academic schedule the next school year, or switch to a different CTE program, provided there was an opening in a course that would fit in with the rest of their schedule.

Perkins then said she would have preferred an alternating day schedule so that students could learn a trade but still remain on the college track. Newport District board member Vicky Hulick, however, said the primary goal of the alternating schedule and CTE programs had always been to reach the 45 percent of IWCS students who don’t go on to college.

Denise Tynes, the new Smithfield district board member elected in November 2019, said she was inclined to trust the opinion of the experts the division had asked to study the issue, meaning Haney and Sullivan.

“I’m new here tonight, but I’m voting for it,” Tynes said. “I’m voting for the students.”

Even with the vote now on record, implementing the new schedule by the start of the 2020-2021 school year may not be a done deal.

“The limiting factor will still be [student] interest,” said Lynn Briggs, IWCS spokeswoman.

She then explained that if the number of students who sign up for a CTE course is insufficient to justify teaching that course all day, every day, every other week for an entire school year, the school board may need to re-evaluate its decision.