Survey says? That’s for you to decide. SPS families asked to weigh in on ‘23 schedule, school start date

Published 6:04 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Suffolk Public Schools’ students and families can weigh in on possible division initiatives to change high school schedules and start school prior to Labor Day.

The school division has asked its stakeholders to weigh in on a shift to a 4×4 block schedule for high school students, which would begin with the 2023-2024 school year.

Benefits of such a schedule, according to the division, include increased access to advanced classes, increased on-time graduation rates, reduced student and teacher workloads for each semester, added opportunities to provide remediation for students who need it and students being able to attend the same four classes each day.

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“This is the missing link, right here, to improving our graduation rate,” said Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III during his SPS vision presentation at the June School Board meeting.

Under the 4×4 block schedule, high school students attend the same four classes daily for about 90 minutes per period and complete each of the four classes in one semester — the division does note some exceptions to this — and then take four new classes during the second semester, allowing students to take eight classes per school year, instead of seven. It would also allow students to earn up to 32 credits, versus the current 28 credits, should they go through all four years of high school on the 4×4 block schedule.

“We are going to create a Suffolk Public Schools 32-credit diploma,” Gordon said.

In his presentation to the board, Gordon outlined the current standard diploma requirement of 22 credits, and 26 credits for an advanced diploma. He said it also would increase opportunities for special education and English language learning students. Additionally, it will help those who may fail a class to repeat it in the next semester.

Gordon said the 4×4 block schedule would allow the division to increase its advanced diploma status. He said a student who is behind on a subject such as math, or a student who fails a class, has little chance under the current seven class schedule of earning an advanced diploma. A 4×4 block schedule would allow a repeat of a class in the next semester for those who fail the first time, he said.

High school faculty and staff will like the new schedule, Gordon said, because they would be teaching just three classes per day, everyday – “less papers to grade during the semester.”

He did note, however, that it “will probably require more instructional staff” since students will be taking eight classes, instead of seven.

“We’re going to have to be very strategic with that, because we know there’s a teacher shortage with some of our tough-to-field areas,” Gordon said.

The survey, which has been active since Sept. 22 and goes through Oct. 7, asks people to weigh in on their initial feeling about a 4×4 block schedule for high school students, asking if they are excited, unsure or need more information. It also allows for comments.

Gordon said he planned to provide more information on the 4×4 block schedule to the board at its Oct. 13 meeting, where it would likely be asked to vote on the proposal.

Another survey asks people to provide feedback on whether they would like to start school before Labor Day.

The General Assembly adopted legislation in 2019 allowing school divisions to start the year before Labor Day in early September. Before that, school divisions had to apply for a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education. That waiver is no longer required.

The division’s note attached to the survey states that, “if implemented, (it) would allow for additional instructional days, inclement weather days and staff training days and planning days.”

It stated that based on other surrounding school divisions transitioning to a pre-Labor Day start to the school year, along with input from its Calendar Committee, it wants to gauge opinions regarding the proposed change.

The survey is just two questions, and the division notes that any decision would not impact the current school year calendar. If approved, the division said the 2023 summer break would be shorter in order to implement the first-year calendar.

If adopted, the general 2023-2024 school year timeline would be:

  • Aug. 14, 2023 – teacher orientation/preservice
  • Aug. 17, 2023 – teachers return to their assigned buildings
  • Aug. 28, 2023 – students return/classes start
  • Sept. 1 & 4, 2023 – schools closed for students and staff per state regulation
  • Week of June 3, 2024 – school year/classes end

Deadline to complete the 2023-2024 school year start date survey is Oct. 9.

To take the survey on the 4×4 block schedule, go to https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe13MDoa-50Us5hgYNdf9vuf0NmGXFu_stMSnyzC7I2CcIUvg/viewform?usp=sf_link.

To take the survey on the 2023-2024 school year start date, go to https://www.research.net/r/SchoolStartSurvey.