DES MOINES, Iowa — The Des Moines School District may be shaking up students’ schedules, moving from the current four classes per day, to seven shorter periods, with a modified two-day block schedule. It would mean students are in each class more often, but for a shorter time.
Monday and Tuesday the Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) held a parent town hall meeting to discuss the proposed changes and how it will impact their high school students. Tanya Keith, a Hoover high school parent, says this schedule change is about more than just how much time is spent in each class.
“One of the reasons I moved from New Jersey to Iowa is because there is so many great opportunities here and education is a huge part of that,” Keith said. “So it is a concern for me that we are looking through all of these fixes, but when it really comes down to it we need better funding from the state.”
A schedule committee member on the online forum for the town hall parent meeting, said “at time when DMPS finances are tight, we need to think creatively about how to best serve students within the resource constraints.” The Director of high schools for the Des Moines Public Schools, Michael Vukovich, says the district is getting “fewer and fewer resources.”
“By reducing an option for students, going from eight options to seven options, not only does it increase our frequency of seeing them all the time, but it also allows us to absorb some of the budget impact that we have,” Vukovich said.
Changing to the seven period modified block would increase the district’s teacher utilization. Right now, in any given block during the school day, 25 percent of the teachers in the building are on a planning period. But with the proposed schedule, and shorter class times, more teachers can be assigned to teach classes each period.
According to the committee’s PowerPoint presentation at the parent meeting, this is “a way to mediate the impact of budget cuts and staff reductions without increasing class sizes.”
Class sizes have continued to increase the past three years in both core classes and elective classes, according to Des Moines Public Schools, and it will only continue without a change to the schedule.
“We’re given certain funding by the state and we have to use those. Our job is to utilize our resources to our best of our ability and make sure our students have the best possible support instruction and the teachers are supported the best that we can, because they have such an important job,” Vukovich said.
Vukovich says there are some other positives to the proposed schedule. Instructional minutes over a two week period will increase by a total of 35 minutes and over a full semester by 292.5 minutes. But Keith says, this makes her pause, when considering how many times they are switching classrooms and have to stop and start lectures over the course of a day.
“The class time is going to be shorter and when you look at the longer class and the three minutes it takes to set up and the three minutes it takes to take down, it ends up being seven percent of the time. But when you have that shorter [45 minute] class, that seven minutes is actually 13 percent of the class,” Keith said. “So by doing this starting and stopping were actually reducing the amount of quality time that that student gets with that teacher.”
Vukovich says this more comes down to classroom efficiency.
“Putting a kid in a room for an hour and a half doesn’t automatically make them learn more than if it was 45 minutes. It’s more about how our teachers are really using their time effectively and the students are using that time effectively in the classroom,” Vukovich said.
The committee also added that infrequent student and teacher interaction is another reason to consider the schedule change. With classes currently every other day, if a student misses a class, they could go up to a week without seeing that teacher again. This proposal would change that.
“We’re really looking at a schedule that is going to serve our students, and all of our students, in the most equitable and best way. Pending potential budget cuts, taking those into consideration, and trying to increase instructional minutes for our students and frequency of contact; all of those things are playing into trying make this decision,” Vukovich said.
“I believe the Des Moines Public School District is doing the best they can with their limited funds, but it keeps coming back to there is this limited funding,” Keith said. “At some point we can’t continue cut, functionally cut, school funding.”
Numerous other concerns were mentioned at the town hall meeting Tuesday afternoon including how it will impact travel times, Central Campus students, and a decrease in the amount of possible credits a student can earn over their four years of high school. You can see all the concerns in the schedule committee’s online forum here.