CHEYENNE – In an effort to combat low test scores from junior high students, the local school board approved significant changes to class schedules Monday night.
The changes, approved unanimously by the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees, will increase the length of classes to 56 minutes from its current 42-minute length. But they won’t go into effect before the 2020-21 school year.
The new schedule for junior high students will consist of 56-minute blocks for math, English, science and social studies each school day. The schedule also has two additional blocks for separate elective classes, along with a 30-minute lunch block and a 30-minute advisory block.
The need for the increase in instructional time comes from a troubling drop in performance for students in seventh and eighth grades when compared to the rest of the state, said Steve Newton, LCSD1’s director of instruction.
“(We believe) there is an imminent need to make these changes,” Newton said Monday night. “Historically, we have underperformed academically when compared to other schools of our size in the state. And, interestingly, this pattern does not seem to follow or hold true for our upper elementary grades or our high schools. We notice a drop in our junior highs academically.”
Newton said the changes would result in 70 more minutes a week and about 42 hours a school year in each class for students over the current schedule.
To increase the amount of time students have for the core classes, the district will have to make changes to its curriculum, said LCSD1 Superintendent Boyd Brown. That means some classes that are now required will be moved into non-mandated electives.
One major concern entering Monday night’s meeting was the possibility that physical education would be eliminated as a requirement for students. Several current and former P.E. teachers in the district talked about the need not only for physical fitness among young people in a country plagued by obesity, but the connection between physical activity and higher test results.
Brown said Monday’s vote was only about changing up the schedule, not what classes would be switched to non-mandatory electives. Those decisions would be made in the coming weeks and months, he said.
The next step will be for the district to work with both internal and external stakeholders both to decide what courses a student would need to move on to the next grade, and which ones could be taken at the student’s discretion.
“At this point, we’re not really looking at making some curricular changes,” Brown said. “We’re just looking at how much time we think we need to allocate in those core areas to be able to get some of the results that we need.”
Several board members made it clear they wanted final say on what the new curriculum would look like, and they wanted to make sure P.E. wasn’t relegated to an elective that only students interested in sports would take.
“I will be watching this really closely,” said board member Lynn Storey-Huylar. “I will be looking to see, and I’m interested to see, if we can still, at some level, have some kind of requirement (for P.E.). I really believe that this is an important issue for our students’ health.”
Brown also said the future changes in curriculum wouldn’t be used to reduce the number of teachers in a certain field. If there ended up being an overabundance of staff in a certain area, those teachers might be reassigned to address shortages in other areas.
Any reduction of staff would occur only through attrition and not through cuts, Brown said.