District establishes committees, focus groups to aid in decision-making process

District establishes committees, focus groups to aid in decision-making process

Claudia Huggins, Editor-In-Chief (Print)

Although debate and disagreement between the community, faculty and administration fueled the idea of focus groups to begin with, the intentions of the groups now are quite the opposite from the original conflict. The debates began with the furlough of two teachers back in June of 2018 and continues with today’s hot topic: block scheduling.

After rumors of a switch from a four-block day to a nine-period day emerged and quickly spread throughout the community, so did responses to these rumors. At the Tuesday, Dec. 4 school board meeting, attendance was high, as was the number of public comments, which included a formal request submitted by junior Cole Skuse to speak out about the issue of the potential schedule change. The petition he created back in November to keep the current four-block schedule received over 540 signatures.

Two months prior to the December board meeting, Oct. 24, the decision to establish several committees came about, comprised of faculty members from the high school. Three different committees were established, each focusing on different aspects of the school, one of which being the schedule. High school social studies teacher Nathaniel Langelli was one of the teachers who volunteered to be on the scheduling committee. The first meeting for this committee took place on Nov. 14.

“Since I have strong feelings about the way the schedule is, I think if I did nothing about it and things changed, then I’d have no right to complain. I just kind of want to be able to say that I care about it and have my voice heard,” Langelli said.

It wasn’t until Dec. 19 that Director of Curriculum and Instruction of Special Education Misty Slavic sent an email to the district, proposing the formation of three different focus groups: a community group, a faculty group and a student group.

Slavic’s decision to create focus groups came during the completion of her dissertation. The original idea of her dissertation was focused mainly on the transition of special education students returning to public schools. After two teachers were furloughed in June of 2018, sparking high levels of debate and disagreement, Slavic began researching how other schools dealt with animosity among district stakeholders and how to bridge the divide to progress in a productive and consensual manner.

At each faculty, student and community focus group meeting, each participant was given the opportunity to respond to questions concerning the current state of the district and its direction moving forward.

On Jan. 7, Slavic facilitated the first focus group meeting of interested community members. Community member and high-school-student parent, Carol-Lyn Dubovi, was one of around 10 other members present that night.

According to Dubovi, Slavic began the meeting by introducing the objective being, “to collect data from parents of what’s going well in the school district and what kind of improvements we want to see.”

With the exception of Slavic, administration and school board were not invited to take part in the discussions to ensure participants’ comfort in providing candid responses to the discussion questions. When the topic of high school scheduling was broached around 8 p.m., however, Principal William Deal and Superintendent Jeffrey Fuller joined the group to provide context and help answer questions.

“Mr. Deal stated that currently teachers are able to teach six classes in a two-day cycle. So, if we go to Tuesdays and Thursdays having four blocks, and Monday, Wednesday and Friday having eight periods, then teachers would be able to teach seven classes instead of six,” Dubovi said.

According to Dubovi, Deal presumed they could conceivably add 15 classes to the course selection.

“I would say most of the parents, if not all, felt that there are way too many unanswered questions right now. If this is even a possibility, we need to talk specifics,” Dubovi said.

Jan. 9 was the first meeting for the faculty focus group, which was originally comprised of four teachers from each school. The same questions from the community group were asked of the teachers, who had the same opportunity to discuss their responses following each question.

On Jan. 10, the 16 students from grades 9-12 chosen to be a part of the student focus group participated in their first meeting.

The start of the meeting was the same as the community and teacher meetings. However, as it progressed, the topic of discussion quickly morphed into scheduling and the questions that come along with it.

According to Fuller and Slavic, the origin of the idea to leave the four-block schedule is unknown, however no matter the origin, they reported they are willing to hear out either side of the argument.

“Is there a need to offer more opportunities or more options? If so, then how do we make that happen? The only way to make that happen is by changing the structure of the day,” Fuller said.

According to Fuller, offering a more diverse course selection for the students was the catalyst for this discussion, and without the resources to do so, “changing the structure of the day seems to be the only option.”

At the Jan. 17 board meeting, each focus group presented the discussed material from each of their meetings. Community members Sharon Geibel, Monica Grunnagle and Heather Anderson were the spokespersons. They highlighted that their meetings mostly focused on decline in enrollment and test scores, and that their idea of an ideal school entails open communication with the community and lots of involvement from not only the community, but the administration as well.

Freshman Joshua Pail and junior Matthew Levenson were the spokesmen for the student focus group. Their presentation was highly focused on involving students in decisions that directly affected them. Their presentation also expressed their support of block scheduling in the high school.

The teachers were the last to present. Technology teacher Tom Hickey, Freedom Fortune 500 and multimedia teacher Kristen Milanovich, fourth grade teacher Linda Haffner and seventh grade English teacher Carole Hartman were the spokespersons for their focus group. Hickey led the presentation with ideas and suggestions as to how the school can improve the students’ daily lives.

“What we want is what’s best for our students. What can we do on a day to day basis, in one year, in 12 years, to do what’s best for our students?” Hickey said.

At the same meeting, President of the school board Mary Ann Petcovic spoke for the board and assured the audience that they were taking all opinions and ideas into consideration. There is currently no set date for a decision to be made on the switch from block scheduling.