Aspen High parents, students critical of new school schedule
October 7, 2014
About 50 concerned Aspen High School parents filled the local school board's meeting room Monday to voice concerns about a new class-scheduling system that puts more emphasis on math and reduces the time students used to get for one-on-one tutoring and other educational pursuits.
Several students attended the Aspen School District board meeting, as well. Youths and adults alike spoke of the large number of kids who are completely stressed out over a curriculum that includes "everyday math."
Some who attended the meeting pleaded with board members to become more actively involved in programming decisions rather than the traditional board member role of influencing school policy and letting administrators tackle curriculum and day-to-day school management.
"Ever since this new change to the schedule, the environment at the school feels tense," said Tess Schaftel, a junior. "Students feel like their day is jam-packed, leaving no time to take a breath. Four 95-minute classes (a day) with no real breaks is a radical expectation for 14- to 18-year-olds.
"Believe it or not, we are still kids who have an extremely short attention span and thrive on downtime," Schaftel continued. Teachers also are upset about the new policy, she added, because "it is tampering with their ability to meet the needs of their students."
Last week, parents circulated a letter critical of the new system that garnered at least 90 signatures of support. For the current school year, Aspen High went to a four-period schedule on four out of five school days per week, with classes running either 90 or 95 minutes. The new scheduling emphasizes math being taught five days a week because administrators want to see improvement in overall math skills.
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The letter also stressed that the schedule takes away time for elective classes and extracurricular activities, including clubs. For students facing responsibilities immediately after the school day, participation in clubs is proving difficult under the new system.
Beth Mondry, a spokesperson for the concerned parents, said the new schedule represents an attitude that has existed among Aspen High administrators for the past few years.
"This isn't just about the schedule," Mondry said. "The schedule is merely a manifestation of the lack of communication, collaboration and responsiveness that plagues our entire educational community."
Mondry said that due to the new schedule and math requirements, enrollment in arts-related courses is down 30 percent.
"Without enough students, these programs will surely struggle to survive," she said.
A former chairperson of Aspen High's school accountability committee, Mondry also spoke of students' loss of tutoring time. That extra tutoring helped them in recent years, she said.
She acknowledged that the school didn't always have "tutorials" because it used to revolve around a single lunch period that allowed students to speak with teachers or hold club meetings. But in recent years, the tutorials have been successful.
The conversation isn't simply about the loss of tutorials, she said. "This conversation is about the fact that a program with such negative consequences was even implemented in the first place," Mondry said. "This isn't an experiment, and our kids aren't guinea pigs."
Not every student is a "math kid," said Heather Cramer, whose daughter is a senior and has enjoyed Aspen High since the family moved to the area from Florida a few years ago.
"She has been happy up until now," Cramer said. "The added stress of this math is bringing my child down to such a degree that every day I get texts from her. She's stressed more than I can possibly express. It's put into texts that say, 'I can't be here another minute. I've never hated school, and I hate school.' This is a kid who's a happy kid and has friends and a full social life. Her needs are not being met.
"Isn't the most important thing that we're trying to foster here a love of learning?" Cramer added.
After more parents spoke, Board of Education President Sheila Wills said she and the other elected board members would likely put a discussion of the issue on a future meeting agenda. She said the next board meeting on Oct. 20 will feature a "math monitoring report" and she invited the parents to learn more about how students have fared in the subject over the past five years.
"This is a very healthy discussion we're having, and I think it needs to continue," Wills said. "This board will not discuss this issue today among ourselves. … I heard very clearly what you all have said. We will take it under careful consideration going forward."
Board member Bob Glah took things a step further, saying he definitely would seek to add a discussion of the new scheduling system on a future agenda.
"I will be making that request," he said.
While district Superintendent John Maloy did not address parents during the meeting, he told The Aspen Times on Friday that scheduling changes are a matter for high school administrators, not the board.
"We recognize there's an issue," Maloy said last week. "Will it be addressed in a week's time? Probably not. But there is a conversation taking place, and will continue to take place, on how best to solve this issue. The challenge is coming up with a workable solution."