New Trier officials consider altering school’s bell schedule to rotating block system
After decades of abiding by a nine-period bell schedule, New Trier High School is likely headed toward a change in its school day next year.
Administrators updated the board of education during its February meeting on progress regarding the district’s bell schedule and the potential of altering it for next school year.
Ultimately, the administration presented the board with a recommendation to finalize what officials are describing as an eight-period, rotating block schedule.
Officials said the eight-period rotating block schedule moderates the pace of day among all school constituencies. That moderated pace will also reduce student stress, officials said, stating that has been a years-long goal of the district.
The schedule will also provide a “flexibility to work well” in any potential learning environment next school year, whether that may be hybrid, remote or in-person, officials said.
Additionally, officials said added instruction time is a perceived benefit of the new schedule.
“Our current block schedule has worked well for us in this setting but … it has the fewest instructional minutes,” said Paul Waechtler, principal of New Trier’s Northfield campus. “I think we want to recapture some of those; we don’t want to have every other class have a lot less instructional minutes.”
With the future effect of the pandemic on next school year still in question, Waechtler also said the district needs to be ready for all learning scenarios.
“We need … to have, at least in the back of our minds, if not the front of our minds, the possibility that we will be in hybrid or remote next year in the fall,” he said, adding officials need to make sure they’re prepared for that.
Extended class times, which under the proposed schedule change would be 80 minutes every other day for core academic courses, will allow for educators to dive deeper into learning materials in one particular session. The schedule change would also allocate more time and frequency for science courses.
Classes under the current nine-period schedule at New Trier are 40 minutes.
New Trier administrators started reviewing different schedule possibilities prior to the onset of the pandemic, as developing solutions to alleviate student stress has been a longtime priority, Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally said.
At the Feb. 16 meeting, Waechtler presented survey data collected from district students, staff members and parents. More than 1,400 parents, 1,050 students and 450 staff members participated in the survey, Waechtler said.
Data showed students and parents had a strong preference for moving to the rotating block schedule. New Trier educators were almost “evenly split” between the nine-period schedule and the rotating eight-period block option.
But all parties agreed on a common message: the need for consistency.
“The interest in having the same schedule all year-round was very clear,” Sally said. “We’re trying to commit to that.”
Board president Cathleen Albrecht said that next school year may be the ideal scenario for testing out the new schedule.
“If we’re going to try this, next year is the year to try this,” she said. “We have talked about this for years mainly around student stress and how we can reduce that, so a year that easily could be unpredictable is to me the time to try it.”
Administrators hope to return to the board in March with more refined details on collaborative times, such as late starts, early dismissals and professional development opportunities for educators.
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.