Last week, all across the city presentations were taking place for Cranston Public Schools parents and students in regards to secondary schedule changes that will begin in the 2018-2019 school year at the middle and high schools. On December 12, a meeting was held at Cranston High School West for incoming ninth through 12th grade students for the 2018-2019 school year to address those changes and answer some initial questions surrounding them.
Principal Tom Barbieri facilitated the meeting along with Assistant Principal Cheryl Anderson. He spoke from the perspective of both as a school administrator, and as the parent of a current CHSW junior in the midst of the college search, as well as the parent of an incoming ninth-grader.
Barbieri commended the audience of approximately 200 parents and students for their attendance that evening, noting that it was testament to their investment in their children and the things that are happening in their schools. The event was advertised as part of the CHSW Parent Board general meeting and included a full buffet dinner presented by the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center’s Culinary Arts program and a performance by the school’s orchestra program. It was moved from the initial location in the school’s library to the larger cafeteria space in order to fit the larger-than-anticipated audience.
“This schedule has been long and coming and as a principal, I am excited to see it happen,” Barbieri said. “The current schedule that we use now was a temporary schedule created 11 years ago. Today’s schedule is a result of the work that was started in February 2017 as a committee of teachers, and administrators worked their tails off to research scheduling data, what our other districts are doing, and finding ways that were going to maximize student opportunities in the Cranston Public Schools for this century. Change always comes with some anxiety, but I am confident that this is going to get done and help us get our kids going in the right direction which will capture these opportunities for them.”
Barbieri emphasized that student choices and student needs are at the heart of the new schedule, which is a block schedule with 84-minute classes that change by semester, and explained the reasoning behind the changes.
“Quite frankly, the world is changing around us, and quite frankly, we need to make sure that our students are ready for these world changes. We need to make sure that our students are college and career ready upon graduating from our schools, whether they are heading directly to a career, to the military or to a two or four-year post-secondary education,” he said.
He explained that currently the high school schedule consists of a six day, seven period schedule, running on a seven day week with each class lasting less than one hour.
“A Monday is never a Monday, a Friday is never a Friday,” he said. “Every day I have to send out a message to parents and students to let them know what day it is, how the classes run, what class drops and what the rotation looks like. No one ever knows what day it is, I myself can barely figure it out. In the world of work today, schedules don’t look like that. On college campuses, schedules don’t look like that.”
He noted that the new four-period per day schedule will allow for automatic student personalization to be built in.
“This provides an opportunity for our students to explore a variety of learning pathways, and I don’t just mean those pathways that exist in our Career and Technical Center. All around our state, our high schools are offering students the opportunities to explore pathways like computer science, construction, and performing arts. Our current schedule limits our children greatly, and they are unable to explore pathways like this. We have amazing visual and performing arts programs here at West, imagine in the future if your students could explore those programs along with the exploration of some of our other programs. With this new schedule, now they can. Now, our students will have the ability to be part of more opportunities here that were not accessible to them previously.”
He also noted that the new block scheduling setup will allow students to receive extra support in areas of reading and math or extra support for a 504 or IEP plan, when needed, without sacrificing the ability to explore various pathway courses at the same time.
Barbieri highlighted a slide from the presentation that explained that the four-course schedule gives students the ability to take eight courses per year, rather than the seven that they are limited to with the current schedule.
“This also means that there are fewer courses for them to prep for at home,” he said, noting that as a parent he sees the amount of hours of homework and preparation that goes into maintaining the current schedule. “When we implemented this sort of block scheduling previously, during the state assessments, we surveyed our Student Leadership Panel and they were very positive in their responses to this type of schedule, and explained that only having to prepare for four subjects each night, versus six, was much more manageable for them, much less stressful. We really listened to what our kids had to say when we created this new schedule.”
He also emphasized that the longer class periods provide a better opportunity for students and staff to create and foster positive relationships and to delve more deeply into coursework, and that each January the students will have a new, revitalized schedule with more opportunities, rather than continuing the same schedule all year long.
“In addition, this is much more like the collegiate experience that many of our students will be heading in to after high school. Many colleges are a campus setting, and we have that campus setting already. However, our schedule will now match up to a more collegiate experience as well,” he said.
In addition to the in-school benefits to the new schedule, Barbieri explained what has been lacking for students in outside experiences will be addressed with the new schedule opportunity.
“Our students in the Career and Tech programs have many opportunities to participate in internships,” he said. “However, here at West, our teachers often will bring their students out into the field on a trip and they see opportunities for internships that they wish they could take advantage of, but they can’t, because of our limited schedule. Now, this schedule allows for our students to get out into the real world to experience these opportunities.”
Barbieri explained that across the state, students have the opportunity to take advantage of the RI Advanced Coursework Network of college classes accessible to them as high school seniors, but that with the current high school schedule in Cranston, very few students can take advantage of those opportunities because of the schedule limits.
Heather DiFazio, a senior at CHSW who is also a student in the Pre-Engineering/Robotics program at CACTC and a member of the school’s Student Leadership Team, spoke to the audience about her experiences in dealing with a limited high school schedule for the past four years, and how she felt that the new schedule set-up would have benefited her and other students like her.
“I am a senior who is in the robotics program, but I am also a very strong art student,” she said. “It was very hard for me to incorporate art classes and my CACTC robotics classes when I was restricted to a seven period per day schedule that lasted all year long. Therefore, in order to take both kinds of classes, I had to take a history class online, outside of school, which was very difficult for me.”
She also spoke about the issues that take place when trying to secure an internship outside of school when utilizing the current schedule.
“I signed up to do an engineering internship program two Thursdays a month, but when I left each time, it was a different day every day,” she said. “This new type of schedule would have been very helpful to me in managing my time and managing the classes and work I missed.”
According to Assistant Principal Cheryl Anderson, the new block schedule will allow some advanced students to finish all of their graduation requirements by the end of their junior year, and allow them to take advantage of opportunities such as internships, AP classes, and the Advanced Network of college courses for free while still in high school.
As the presentation came to an end, Barbieri reassured the audience that there would be administrators in the room at the conclusion to help answer parents’ individual questions and concerns about the new schedule and that an email link would soon be sent out where parents could send additional questions in. He also explained that there would be many more opportunities for parents to learn about the transition and separate meetings for incoming freshmen and their parents as well. Information about available courses will be in the course selection booklet that students choose their classes from, and guidance counselors will be assisting students in their selections as well.
He guaranteed the audience that professional development will be taking place to ready teachers for the new instructional methods that come with teaching longer, more in-depth classes, and noted the opportunity to visit other school districts in Rhode Island who utilize this type of schedule will also be available for teachers.
“Our children are at the heart of this schedule,” he said. “Every time we make a decision about our children we are making it about what is the best thing for them. In this world of different pathways and different opportunities, we need to maximize the opportunities for our children so that they are ready for our world and our society.”