Washburn switches schedule, start times

School going from seven to six periods

Washburn High School ninth-grader Anna Keefe meets with counselor Amy Webster to discuss her schedule for the 2017-18 school year. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Washburn High School students will have one less class each school day next year, but they will be able to take classes before or after school — and stagger their start time — if they choose to.

The school will switch from a seven- to a six-period schedule next fall, a move Principal Rhonda Dean said will give students and families more flexibility and give teachers more direct instructional time.

Washburn will change its start and end times to accommodate the changes. First period will start at 8:30 a.m. instead of 8:15 a.m., and the day will go until 3 p.m. instead of 3:15 p.m.

Students will have the option of taking a “zero-hour” class before school or a “seventh-hour” class after school. They will also be allowed to flex their schedule and go to school starting at 7:30 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. if they choose.

“We’re actually creating a schedule that can work with families’ needs, especially when transportation is not binding us,” Dean said, noting that students have Metro Transit passes.

The move comes two years after Washburn switched from a six- to a seven-period schedule to accommodate students in the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Those students were unable to complete all of their IB and district-graduation requirements under the old six-period system, Dean said, forcing them to take health and physical education online.

The district reduced its graduation requirements in fall of 2015, however, which allowed students seeking an IB diploma to fit everything into a six-period day.

“The motivating factor to move to a seven-period day was kind of out of play,” Dean said.

Adding a seventh period meant that non-IB-diploma-seeking students began to finish their graduation requirements earlier in their academic careers, Dean said. Counselors found that the upperclassmen didn’t want an extra class, she said, and hundreds of kids began requesting release periods from school.

The move back to six periods will also allow Washburn to better utilize the $740,000 in “extended time” funding it receives from the district, Dean said. The money only covered a seven-period day for about three-fourths of Washburn’s students, forcing the school to use its building budget to supplement the extended day.

The move will also increase each class period to 55 from 50 minutes, adding up to an additional 15 hours per class per year. That time will be valuable in helping to tackle Washburn’s achievement gap, Dean said.

Staggered start times will help Washburn address its overcrowding issues, as the school’s student population continues to increase above its capacity of 1,554, she said.

Dean said that the six-period schedule comes with social and emotional benefits, too. Kids get tired from a seven-period schedule, she said, noting that getting assignments in every class can be exhausting. Plus, it gives a respite to the high-achieving students who expect to perform well in every class, she said.

She stressed that 90 percent of students will have an 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m. schedule. IB diploma candidates will likely take two courses beyond the regular six-period schedule, she wrote in a letter to families. They may have to choose between an extra class, a club or a sport in some cases.

Teachers will continue to teach five periods but will have one prep period instead of two.

The school likely won’t offer study hall under the new schedule, Dean wrote in the letter, though it’s exploring study halls for specific subjects, such as math. The move could also decrease the number of requests for release periods.

Dean conceded that the school did a poor job of communicating the changes to families, who learned of the change the day before course-registration info night. She said she would have provided the information in a timelier manner in hindsight.

Most athletes will be advised to choose an 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m. schedule, Dean wrote. She said she anticipates the school will offer about three to five classes before and after school.

It will offer those zero- and seventh-hour classes depending on student interest and won’t offer popular courses, such as varsity choir, during those times.

Washburn site council co-chair Jeanne Massey said parents generally needed to give changes a good cycle before they know the further impacts. She said the changes made logical sense, adding that the biggest concern she’s heard from parents is about the zero hour forcing kids to come to school earlier.

“Once they see how the schedules work out, I’m hoping they’ll be pleasantly surprised,” she said.

Most high schools in the Twin Cities use a six-period schedule, according to Dean, including Minnetonka High School, which switched to a six-period schedule in 2005.

The school had a significant problem with students taking a free hour before the switch, said Janet Swiecichowski, Minnetonka Public Schools executive director of communication. The school also had a problem with students registering for and then dropping classes.

She said the average course load per student actually increased after the change, despite having one less period in the day. The district saved $500,000 by making the switch, and students were in each class nine minutes more per day.

Minnetonka had a zero-hour program initially but has since replaced it with online courses taught by its own teachers. Swiecichowski said the online program has more than 1,000 enrollments.

Edina High School has a six-period schedule but is switching to a seven-period hybrid schedule starting next year, a move that could cost an additional $400,000 to $550,000 annually. Students there will have seven classes three days a week and four classes two days a week.