Written by Sabrina Chen
Published in the May 22, 2015 issue
In the past few months, the Gunn Creative Scheduling Committee and the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Minority Achievement and Talent Development Advisory Committee have worked to develop a new schedule and create recommendations to close the achievement gap.
Creative Scheduling Committee
After several meetings each ranging from four to over six hours, the Gunn Creative Scheduling Committee released a recommendation on May 8 containing a new bell schedule for the upcoming school year. In the 75-minute block schedule, each period meets three times a week. Periods A, B, C and D meet for 75 minutes three times a week and periods E, F and G meet for 70, 75 and 80 minutes each week. There will be two tutorials, a mandatory session on Tuesday mornings and an optional session on Thursday after school. A 50-minute session for teacher collaboration will be held Monday afternoons.
At the May 12 PAUSD schools board meeting, committee members and Principal Dr. Denise Herrmann presented the new schedule. “I could not be more proud of the work we’ve accomplished,” Herrmann said.
Sophomore Ido Enav explained the goals of the schedule at the board meeting. “We want the well-being of students to be improved,” Enav said. “We want to reduce stress and anxiety by making time management easier and having a better balance of academics and extracurriculars, and that physical needs such as our sleep and nutrition are met.”
Although math teacher Chris Redfield knows that the transition to the new schedule will take work, he is excited for the extended periods. “The 75-minute extended time opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of what class might look like; there [are] more options in terms of what a lesson might be.” Redfield said. “You can get creative in the ways we teach a class. You might break up the class into smaller chunks and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have some instruction time here, we are going to have some time where students interact and practice or discuss the new material, and we might have some one-on-one time for questions.’”
Redfield has grown to support the immediate imple- mentation starting next fall. “At first I was very nervous about starting in August because I was worried I wouldn’t be ready in time,” Redfield said. “But during a discussion, a parent on the committee really pushed that if this new schedule is really good for Gunn, why wouldn’t we do it sooner than later? I really came around to that viewpoint; I think teachers are going to have to do a lot of work but the school is going to benefit immediately from the new schedule.”
The Minority Committee is writing a set of recommendations that will be presented to the Board of Education on May 26. According to Superintendent Dr. Max McGee, the committee of 12 people—which includes students, teachers, alumni and community members—has had 12 meetings so far trying to close the achievement gap for historically underrepresented students. “By various measures of achievement, [minority groups] were below their white and Asian peers in their grades or standardized test scores. They were disproportionately missing from AP classes, honors classes, beginning from middle school to high school,” McGee said.
The committee spent its first eight meetings trying to identify and understand the root causes of the gap through interviews with focus groups, surveys and quantitative data. The recent meetings have been spent drafting a set of recommendations, which will focus in the areas of reading and math from Pre-K to Grade 2, transitions between schools and opportunities for tutoring in the summer or after school.
According to McGee, during a meeting with Parent Advocates for Student Success, parents and students said that one issue in particular was a source of apprehension. “When I talked with focus groups, students and also faculty, they said that the expectations for historically underrepresented students weren’t as high as for their peers; not just expectations of a particular teacher but expectations of the community as a whole,” McGee said. “This is not pointing fingers at teachers, parents, or anybody; the message that we heard especially from students is, ‘We have a different set of expectations, and too many people don’t understand that we have extraordinary potential.’”
Concerning the achievement gap, McGee has one particular hope for the community. “[Closing the gap] is a collective responsibility. It’s not just the responsibility of the committee,” McGee said. “That is my most fervent hope and belief, that this effort becomes a collective responsibility that we all have a part to play in closing these opportunity gaps and ensuring that each and every one of our students—in the words of our mission statement—is empowered to achieve [his or her] highest intellectual, social and creative potential, because that’s everybody’s responsibility.”