An age-old project that local school officials said is an ongoing challenge has returned to the forefront as it’s now time for Township High School District 113 to determine the most effective bell schedule for its two high schools.
The D113 board of education during its Tuesday, Feb. 6 committee of the whole meeting heard updates on efforts from a district-wide committee tasked with developing a common bell schedule for Highland Park and Deerfield high schools.
Deerfield High School Principal Kathryn Anderson, the chair of the committee charged with determining the common bell schedule, walked board members through planning efforts thus far.
The committee, which consists of educators from both schools, was formed in 2023 and has devoted significant time to exploring scheduling options.
According to district documents, the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the School Board and the District 113 Education Association calls for both high schools to be on a common bell schedule for the 2025-26 school year.
The district will pilot what it describes as a “joint application” of the current Deerfield High School bell schedule for next school year in an effort to “have a schedule that reflects equitable teaching, homeroom, supervisory, and collaboration minutes,” according to district documents. The new common schedule will not be fully implemented until the start of the following year, officials said.
The committee’s scope of work centers on two pieces: an initial recommendation on the common bell schedule that will take place by June 1 of this year and a final recommendation that will be delivered by Dec. 1.
Anderson said that the hope of the meeting’s presentation was to gather feedback from the board and ensure the committee’s progress is on the right track.
Before fully diving into the development of the new shared schedule, officials first wanted to recognize the existing structures at each school.
“When we started talking about bell schedules it was important for us to acknowledge where we’re at and what we’ve done in the past so that we can move forward,” Anderson said.
The current Deerfield bell schedule was implemented in 2004-’05, Anderson said, noting that it took a four-year process to reach that point. Key points in the schedule include an eight-period day (plus an early bird and homeroom period) and classes meeting four times a week.
At Highland Park, the existing bell schedule was implemented at the start of 2022-’23. When compared to Deerfield, Highland Park has a later start time and its schedule allows for more staff collaboration time.
So far, the committee has largely focused on determining common themes and values of staff members across the district related to developing the new bell schedule. Through the initial feedback it’s gathered, which was compiled mainly through department listening sessions and a district-wide staff survey, the committee identified key themes to prioritize throughout the process.
Officials developed the survey based on the values that came out of the departmental conversations and listening periods. The survey, which was sent to all staff members, received 170 respondents split relatively evenly across the two schools (53% HPHS; 46% DHS).
The desire to have the frequency of contact with students at four days was a strong preference (83%) among respondents.
About 64 percent of respondents said they prefer a mix of shorter and longer periods as the cadence of the weekly schedule. A nearly identical percentage of respondents stated support for different start times at each school but same end times.
Responses were far more varied when asked about topics like homeroom and the frequency and duration to collaborate with staff, Anderson noted.
The survey also asked staff to determine their most important theme priority moving forward. Results showed that the frequency of contact with students per week and the length of the period was the most listed priority while the frequency and length of homeroom was flagged as the least important.
Anderson also provided the board with a list of bell schedule constraints that the committee is working with.
The committee is operating under the premise that the number of periods will be eight and will also include one optional period, which will either be an early or late-bird session.
The length of the teacher work week will be no more than 35 hours and 30 minutes, Anderson said, while noting that any increase would require discussion between the education association and the board.
The committee is reviewing the threshold on instructional minutes and trying to match minimum current instructional minutes per period at DHS, which is approximately 206 minutes.
Ending time is also a key constraint to consider as officials must weigh the limitations that exist surrounding Wolters Field as the lights at that facility must be turned off by a certain point. Thus, right now, the goal is to keep Highland Park’s end time as close as possible to its current end time of 3:05 p.m.
The committee’s next step is to continue ongoing conversations with surrounding school districts to gather feedback regarding any potential “special features” that may be included in the schedule, such as WIN (what I need) periods. Members will then develop several bell schedule models for feedback among staff and students, Anderson said.
“This is an incredible first step along the way and I think the board (feels) the general direction is correct,” Board President Daniel Struck said while expressing thanks to the committee members and noting “it’s been a herculean job.”
“It’s a project that has bedeviled this district and all our sister districts continuously, trying to get the day right,” Struck added.
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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.