DHS flexes schedule to facilitate students, especially freshmen

DALLAS -- Students and teachers can finally relax.

DALLAS -- Students and teachers can finally relax.

The new modified block schedule to begin this fall at Dallas High School could bring homework relief and provide freshmen with more learning support to boost their grades and confidence in school.

"The schedule we are on right now with seven periods a day is insane," said Kristin Miller, Dallas High School sophomore biology teacher. "Students and teachers are brain dead by the end of the day. It increases student homework because you are going to see your teacher the next day, and there's really not enough time in the (class) period to be efficient with such a small (amount) of time."

About a year and a half ago, Dallas High Principal Keith Ussery said he admitted to himself that he wasn't doing everything for his students that he could be. He picked up a copy of "Results Now: How We Can Achieve Unprecedented Improvements in Teaching and Learning" by Michael J. Schmoker and found a format for learning that provides better teacher communication, preparation and specifically helps students who struggle, such as freshmen who have difficulty with the transition into high school.

"Our freshmen students have struggled for decades, and the transition from middle school to high school is difficult," Ussery said. "Students who aren't doing well in the eighth grade come to high school and do even worse. We haven't done anything that is really systematic, we haven't had a response large enough where it throws enough resources at the problem."

After studying the book with a couple of other teachers, Ussery introduced the material to the school board for it to appraise. The board decided the plan was worthy and implemented a two-week trial period during the first two weeks of April.

Under the new schedule, students will attend all seven classes on Monday, four 90-minute classes Wednesday and Friday and three 90-minute classes Tuesday and Thursday.

Tuesday and Thursday bring the most changes because teachers get a special preparation period in the morning before first period, and new learning skills classes will be required for freshmen from 2:18-3:25 p.m.

During the gender-based guide groups, Ussery said 85 percent of the staff will be in groups of two with classes of freshmen. The classes will focus on building soft skills, such as organization and personal management.

"We are in a different day and age and a lot of kids don't have the parental support they need, basic life skills or study skills," Miller said.

The second class, called intervention, will be a guided study session where teachers will monitor students completing homework and will be available to help them with questions.

Ussery said he has formed intervention teams of staff members who will monitor data, such as attendance and grades, to catch struggling students before they slip through the cracks.

During this time, older students can travel to away games for athletics without missing class, take advantage of opportunities in leadership, music or theater, attend study tables, or go home early.

The schedule will help teachers who will have more time to teach lessons and finish labs, and students will not attend the same classes each day, allowing them more time to complete assignments.

Ussery said during the two-week trial students and staff felt more relaxed, and having more time created a different atmosphere at the school.

Miller said the students were hesitant at first, but by the end of the trial, kids were petitioning to keep the schedule throughout the school year.

She said the schedule allows students a chance to relax because they aren't learning seven different things each day.

However, not all of the feedback was positive. Ussery said he recognized that 90-minute classes can be hard for some students to sit through and having an irregular class schedule makes it more difficult for students to take classes off campus.

With the new program, Ussery said there is no extra cost in terms of personnel, but there is for purchasing books for the guide groups and bringing an author to campus.

After the first six weeks of the program next fall, he will collect feedback and make adjustments.

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