‘Personalized Learning’ has long been a buzzword in the Coronado Unified School District (CUSD) community. Now it is coming to Coronado High School (CHS) in the form of a new bell schedule designed to promote deeper learning, broader course offerings, flexibility, connection to higher education, and opportunities for both remediation and acceleration. That is a lot of promise. CUSD Director of Learning Dr. Megan Battle and CHS Principal Shane Schmeichel outline how the new schedule will live up to its expectation.
Beginning in August 2021, CHS will adopt a 4x4 schedule in which students will take up to four classes in fall term and four in spring term for a total of eight classes per year. Each class period will be about 90 minutes. Currently CHS is on a traditional six period year long schedule.
“Going from a total of 24 to 32 classes during four years of high school will essentially give students an extra ‘year’ worth of classes in which they could take advantage of postsecondary options such as apprenticeships, vocational training, exploring interests and talents in the arts, or dual college enrollment classes,” explained Schmeichel.
Schmeichel and Battle illustrated how the new structure and extra class opportunities will benefit students.
Competitive advantage: CHS students are competing for university admission spots with their peers in area high schools. The top schools in the county are on either 4x4, trimester, or 7 period schedules which allow their students to complete a more comprehensive and well rounded ‘portfolio’ to admissions offices. On the current schedule if CHS students decide to complete all UC course requirements for admission to California schools then the variety and depth of their course selection is less robust than the students they are compared to.
Dual enrollment/High School Plus College: Expanded course offerings allow students to take more classes at CHS that count for high school and college credit simultaneously. The option to graduate from high school with college credits can save considerably on tuition costs.
Acceleration: Schmeichel explained, “Take math for example. A student in a 4x4 could take Integrated Math 1 [IM1] Fall term and IM2 Spring term freshman year, IM3 and Pre Calculus Honors sophomore year, Calculus AB and BC junior year - and then have time to take college level courses, explore an arts or music elective, or gain job experience senior year. Under the year-long schedule that same student who started in IM1 would take four years of math [IM1, IM2, IM3, PC] and could only reach Pre Calculus.”
Remediation: Students who fail a class will have ample time to retake the class for a better grade or credit, without taking summer school.
Exploring passions/Vocational studies: CUSD has intentionally allocated resources and built K-12 pathway programs in areas such as music, arts and engineering, only to have students reach high school and have to choose between continuing a pathway of interest and completing college required courses. “We have invested dollars and our students have invested time in these programs, it makes sense to expand them in high school, not shrink them,” said Battle.
Layering instruction to meet diverse student learning styles: The 90 minute format is too long for the teacher to be the center of attention or simply lecture, and will require a variety of instructional strategies to hold student interest. There will be time in class for review, mini lessons that focus on kinesthetic, visual, or auditory learners, projects, presentations, and independent and group work.
Consolidated learning and homework: A common concern amongst high school students and parents is an excessive amount of homework. Under the new schedule students can focus their attention on just four classes, allowing for deeper understanding of fewer subjects.
Athletic participation: According to Principal Schmeichel, athletes will have the option to essentially incorporate a sport into their school year and better balance their responsibilities. “For example, if a student plays baseball (a spring sport) he could request a 4th period ‘Off Role’ in the spring term and not worry about missing class for practice and games. Even if a student did that all four years they would still have more than enough credits for graduation.” he explained
College and career readiness: Not only will the diversity of classes help students identify their interests and strengths, but the 4x4 format is the same as a university schedule where each course is one semester. “That is one less adjustment to face in the transition to college,” said Battle. Schmeichel added that, “Just like in college, students can sequence courses. If they excel in Spanish they can double up and take Spanish 1 and 2 in one year, then 3 and 4, and then an AP course.”
As administrators, Battle and Schmeichel are paying considerable attention to the ways the change will affect teachers. Schmeichel has previously taught in a 4x4 high school and understands the challenges and opportunities it presents for a classroom teacher. “Teachers are responsible for presenting the curriculum in a different way. It’s a challenge. It gets easier but I remember feeling a lot of pressure to keep students attention. The content standards for each course are exactly the same, but delivered at a faster pace and it has to be with variety,” he said. CHS teachers are being provided opportunities for professional development in the transition.
“All CHS teachers in core content classes have had the opportunity to meet with teachers at either Rancho Bernardo or Canyon Crest Academy [both on 4x4 schedules] to discuss best practices in curriculum and pacing. We tried to have our teachers connect with teachers who were on staff when the school made the transition to a 4x4 or who had transferred from a traditional school into the 4x4,” said Schmeichel.
One advantage is extra preparation time. According to contract, teachers have one ‘Prep’ period daily to collaborate and prepare their lessons (currently 53 minutes). In a four period day they will teach for three periods and use the fourth 90 minute period to Prep.
In a small school where personal relationships are highly valued, teaching three periods per term/six per year could affect the connections between students and teachers, which take time to develop. Class sizes are determined by contract language and will stay the same, but the number of total classes a teacher has will increase from 5 ‘groups’ of students to six ‘groups’ over the course of one school year. As a result, teachers will have the added responsibility to connect with more students. Conversely, it will give students an opportunity to connect with one more adult on campus.
District administrators plan to use a variety of metrics to track the effects of the new schedule. Standardized tests, historical grade data, and attendance will be among the many data points that will be monitored. Battle and Schmeichel also noted that as the school settles into the new master schedule there will be more opportunities to create new specialized courses, and expand off campus vocational training, work experience and internships. The 4x4 schedule is common in high schools across the country and CHS leaders have had the advantage of studying best practices in high performing schools.
“This change will be transformative for CHS and has and will take a lot of work, especially from our teachers, counselors, and administrators, but we are very, very confident that it is absolutely what’s best for students. They [students] are why we are taking on the challenge,” said Battle.