April 3, 2003
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YSHS reviewed changes
Yellow Springs High School teachers who this year researched “best practice” teaching techniques discovered that the high school already exhibits many “best practice” characteristics.
“We have a lot to offer each other,” YSHS English teacher Elizabeth Lutz said of her fellow teachers. “We don’t need to hire a bunch of consultants.”
However, the teachers at the March 27 meeting of the Yellow Springs Board of Education said they also concluded that the YSHS teachers face a formidable obstacle to learning from each other.
“The major issue we uncovered is the lack of time,” said chemistry teacher Emily Riley. “We don’t have enough time to collaborate, to discuss the kids and the things we want to do together.”
Spanish teacher Kathryn Burkland agreed. “We have wonderful teachers but we don’t get a chance to talk to each other,” she said. “Like the students, we’re all flying by the seats of our pants.”
At the meeting, the school board heard from the Best Practice Committee, a group of five teachers selected last summer to research “best practices” in their fields. The committee “was an outgrowth of the YSHS Project,” YSHS Principal John Gudgel said, referring to last year’s school project in which teachers identified the school’s values and mission. From that experience, Gudgel said, he formed the committee as a way to further empower teachers to improve the school.
Best Practice Committee members — Burkland, Lutz, Riley, social studies teacher John Day and math teacher Dee Ann Holly — all expressed their appreciation for being a part of the group, which has met regularly this year after school hours.
Burkland said that the committee experience “allows me to have dialogue on a deep and satisfying level” with other committee members. “It keeps me walking into the classroom smiling,” she said.
“All of us are committed to improving our teaching and improving the school,” Day said. “This committee gave us the extra oomph to make it possible.”
The committee members attended workshops and conferences in their fields this year, something several said they hadn’t had the time or money to do previously. At the conferences, they found new teaching techniques. Holly, for instance, learned about ways to use math computer software “more productively.”
The teachers also researched ways to make the high school more conducive to student learning in general, and several attended a Washington, D.C., conference on school reform.
“We’re trying to make our school a better place for kids,” Lutz said.
While the school employs many caring and committed teachers, the school day is too hectic for both teachers and students, said several of the teachers, adding that improving the school climate may involve restructuring the school day. The school currently follows a traditional schedule of requiring students to attend seven class periods daily, a schedule that allows little or no time for teacher collaboration.
Nationwide, many schools are experimenting with “block scheduling,” a system that offers fewer and longer class periods daily, allowing for more flexibility and more collaborative teaching, committee members said.
“Block scheduling represents a fundamental shift in the entire structure of the school,” said Day, who reported that the system has, in other schools, resulted in fewer discipline problems and higher attendance for both teachers and students.
Block scheduling could also address the teachers’ need to spend more time working together, said several committee members.
“We have a need for teacher collaboration,” Lutz said. “Having a sense of professionalism helps us become more effective teachers and helps students become more effective learners.”
Before promoting a significant change in the school structure, local resident Wally Sikes said, the committee needs to include in planning as many other teachers as possible.
“Participation in change equals commitment,” he said. “You have to find some way to get the bulk of the faculty and the students involved.”
Committee members agreed, and Day stated that many YSHS teachers already favor block scheduling. He passed out a teacher survey showing that 21 out of the 23 high school teachers identified themselves as strongly in favor, in favor or neutral about block scheduling, while only two identified themselves as opposed. Teachers also identified themselves as favoring team teaching, but less enthused about changes such as implementing an “immersion term” between semesters.
Overall, Day said, many YSHS teachers seem open to change.
“The faculty dialogue has been better than ever,” he said. “We have the capacity to move. It feels like we’re going in the right direction.”
Committee members agreed, however, that any significant change will take time.
“We are nowhere near implementing” the block-schedule plan, said Riley, and the high school staff needs time to meet together to discuss possible changes and their ramifications. The school board could facilitate the process by helping teachers find the time to collaborate during regular school hours, said committee members.
In response to a question from school board president Tom Haugsby about areas of “discomfort” in committee members’ research, or areas in which the high school “has a way to go,” several committee members identified YSHS as “short on technology” compared to other schools they saw.
“There’s so much technology out there that could help us that we don’t have,” said Holly.
The school could also “implement its mission statement and values more effectively,” said Day, who added that he encountered schools with more clearly-expressed values.
At the end of the meeting, board members expressed their appreciation for the teachers’ presentations and for their efforts. “The board has hungered for this sort of discussion with teachers,” Haugsby said.
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• In other business, the school board unanimously agreed to accept the low bid of $61,200 from A.H. Sturgill Roofing Inc. to replace the roof of the McKinney School.

—Diane Chiddister