To provide time for new social-emotional learning curriculum and to bring Gunn High School into compliance with an instructional minutes requirement, the school will have a new bell schedule starting this fall, Principal Denise Herrmann announced in a message sent to staff and students Monday night.
The change is to the chagrin of many students who have said the schedule was revised with insufficient student voice and input.
The administration has decided to move what is currently an optional, sparsely attended Thursday afternoon tutorial period to a mandatory "flex" class after brunch. In the fall, this time will be used once a month for freshmen and sophomores to pilot new social-emotional learning curriculum, including allowing students to meet with teacher-mentors as part of the new Titan Connect program. Other weeks, students will be able to use the time for academic or free choice use, such as to get extra help from teachers or catch up on homework. In the 2018-19 school year, this will expand to include juniors and the following year, seniors.
This will double the amount of time students are spending in Titan Connect, Gunn's version of Palo Alto High School's teacher-advisor program, Herrmann told the Weekly.
Research and other schools' experience implementing social-emotional learning shows it is most effective in the middle of the school day, rather at the end or in the morning, Herrmann said. About 10 to 15 percent of students currently attend tutorial in the afternoons, according to the school.
Moving the period in the middle of the school day will also help Gunn address its failure to provide the minimum number of instructional minutes in a school year as mandated by the state. In February, Herrmann discovered that the school is 23 hours short of that requirement. The shortage was due to numerous special schedules, such as for standardized testing or finals, and a lack of accountability to the impact of those schedules on overall minutes, Herrmann said.
Paly is also short on instructional minutes by about 37 hours, according to Principal Kim Diorio. Paly's own bell schedule committee, convened in the fall, is set to make a recommendation for a revised schedule later this spring. The committee was originally formed in response to student complaints about one day of the week when all seven periods meet, but is now considering adding more time to advisory and a later start time, among other changes, Diorio said.
At Gunn, students said they recognize the need for a different schedule and fully support the addition of social-emotional learning, but have criticized the process by which the new schedule was developed.
More than 500 students have signed a petition that proposed a "compromise" schedule, urging the school to address a "large trust gap" between students and the administration.
"We, the students of Gunn, do not feel that our voices are being represented when decisions are made," the petition states. "Not only do we feel unrepresented, but we also see dysfunction in the decision-making process itself."
The petition decries the fact that a Creative Scheduling Committee, whose 2015 recommendation ultimately led the school to shift to a new block schedule, has met infrequently this year and with little participation from students. There are about six teachers, one parent and three students still meeting as part of that committee, Herrmann said.
That group, however, was not charged with making the recommendation on this year's schedule change, Herrmann said. The decision was made by the school's wellness team, which includes school counselors, wellness teachers on special assignment, the school's wellness coordinator and other teacher and administrators.
The wellness team has been working since November to find a bell schedule that would provide regular, dedicated time for social-emotional learning, which was recommended by a districtwide committee in February.
The administration held one informational student forum in January and again last week, days before Herrmann was expected to announce the new schedule, to solicit input. The school also sent a survey out to students and staff this month with four bell schedule options; the results indicated a "strong preference" for the one the administration ultimately decided to put in place, according to Herrmann.
Worried about the lack of student input, Gunn junior Advait Arun, who also co-authored the online petition, conducted his own survey. Out of 373 respondents across grades, most said they prefer the current schedule and did not want it to change. The survey also found that 60 percent of respondents said they don't trust the administration to listen to their voice. This amount increases in the higher grades, Arun found.
In a separate survey conducted by Gunn's student government body, many of the 88 randomly selected participants also urged against making another schedule change.
Arun said moving forward, more important than the schedule itself is the process by which future decisions are made at Gunn.
"If the petition is not going to work, so be it," he said. "I want to bridge the trust gap."
Some students are still smarting over other actions they felt neglected student voice, including two years ago when zero period academic classes were eliminated and this year, when Gunn implemented a new monitoring software on school-issued laptops.
Arun has been elected to serve as Gunn's school board representative next year and hopes to use that role to improve communication between students, administrators and school trustees.
He also hopes students who opposed the schedule change go into the new school year this fall with an open mind to help make the new social-emotional curriculum a success.
Herrmann said she values student voice and has met with every student who has asked to talk with her about the bell schedule. Her eye, however, is on the pedagogical arguments for social-emotional learning and the long-term impact of rolling that initiative out in the right way.
"Students are not education experts; they're expressing their views from what they value and I completely understand that, but as the leader of a public school, I'm charged to use evidence-based practices and sometimes that's not aligned with what some of the current students want," she said.
"Sometimes it's not about the popular choice, it's what is going to make the biggest difference for the most students over the course of the next three to five years," she added.