Schools get creative in scheduling advisory

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Last fall, the School Board signed an agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union requiring high schools to add a class period next school year to accommodate student advisories, and it crafted a model schedule to accomplish that.

Most schools have rejected the board’s model and requested waivers so they can go with locally developed schedules. Their concerns about the board’s schedule are twofold: It trims time on academics and could be in violation of the state’s requirements for daily teaching time. Under the board’s model, a class period would last 45 minutes instead of the current 50. Further, three days a week, the official school day would amount to only 284 minutes, 16 minutes short of the state requirement for 300 minutes.

Under the Illinois School Code, “days of attendance by pupils shall be counted only for sessions of not less than five clock hours of school work per day under direct supervision” of teachers. Otherwise, the day cannot be counted for school district funding.

Powhatan Collins, director of High School Reorganization, notes the board’s schedule provides an average of 302 minutes a day over the course of a week. However, that calculation includes a 45-minute conference period that the School Board has declared optional for students.

Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney reports the state “has no problem” with the board’s model schedule.

As Catalyst goes to press, though, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has not approved the agreement, either. “The State Board is familiar with the issue, and is reviewing the issue,” says spokesperson Tom Hernandez, adding that a “variance can be granted on a case-by-case basis.”

In another potential complication, a Cook County Circuit Court judge recently threw out a state law permitting the ISBE to grant waivers of state laws, such school holidays and physical education requirements. The judge said the waiver law was an unconstitutional delegation of authority. CPS, ISBE and the Attorney General’s Office plan to file an appeal.

Most schools’ waivers propose retaining 50-minute periods and adding a half-hour advisory period once a week, the minimum required by the board-union contract.

Legal worries

“There were concerns about whether or not approval would come from the state for shortened school days, and we wanted to be in compliance,” says John Waitrowski, grade advisor at Hyde Park Academy, which is sticking with 50 minutes.”So that’s probably why most high schools are going to waivers next year.”

“Basically, staff bit the bullet and fixed a board problem,” asserts Jay Rehak, a teacher at Whitney Young and representative of a dissident caucus within the CTU. “Advisory is not a bad idea, but as it is cutting into instructional time, it is not a good idea. There should be an increase in class time, not a decrease. But the board doesn’t want to do that because it would cost them money. But who is going to pay for it but the kids, and the time that they lose in the classroom?”

“They expect us to teach more and more in classes but in a shorter amount of time,” agrees Farragut programmer Andrew Shuran. “That’s one of the main reasons we kept the 50-minute classes.”

In addition, under the board’s model, students would arrive at different times on different days. On the three days when there is no advisory or conference period and teachers are engaged in staff development or class preparation, students simply would come to school later.

“It would be a nightmare to calculate attendance,” says Marshall programmer Jan Smithers, adding that the model also would limit the number of classes students could take.

Others note that a staggered start is impractical for schools with bused students. Still others question scheduling an advisory at the beginning or end of the day. “Would you come if you didn’t have to?” asks one Hyde Park teacher.

Adds Shuran of Farragut, “We decided to not have advisory early in the day because we wanted the students to get into the habit of getting to school at the same time.”

Schools have come up with a wide variety of responses to the challenge. For example:

At Steinmetz, students will attend advisory daily for 16 minutes while attending 50-minute classes. Principal Constantine Kiamos says this schedule will allow for more continuity.

Senn and Juarez High will follow the board’s 45-minute period model. However, Juarez Principal Misael Alonso has devised special classes for two of the three non-advisory days.

At Farragut, students will remain on a 50-minute schedule. The school has rolled its 10-minute division into a weekly 45-minute advisory.

Jones Magnet High is one of few schools contacted by Catalyst that has a solid plan for accommodating extra periods of staff development, prep time and conferences as well as advisories.

There, teachers will come in 30 minutes early on Tuesdays for advisory training, where they will receive instruction and materials for the next day’s advisory. On Wednesdays, class periods will be trimmed from 50 minutes to 46 minutes to accommodate advisory while allowing students to leave at the regular time. Because the school operates on a eight- to nine-period day, compliance with state law is not an issue.

Donating time

To provide teacher collaboration periods, the school has scheduled a common prep time for teachers within each department. The optional student conferences will be held before and after class, as well as during lunch breaks, says Rita Thompson, academy resource teacher.

Jones Programmer William Miceli says most teachers at Jones are fairly willing to donate time for things such as conference periods. “I couldn’t tell you how other schools would do it,” he says.

While high school faculties generally endorse the concept of advisories—time for small-group, teacher-student interaction—implementation has been controversial. In 1997, the School Board told schools to start advisories but did not provide extra teacher pay or the training teachers said they needed. As a result, faculties at many schools balked.

In 1998, the board paid for a one-semester trial run at 41 high schools; 17 of those schools continued the program even after board money ran out.

Under the new CTU contract, the board will pay teachers for a weekly one-period advisory. As a result, some teachers who previously had put in extra hours for free are no longer willing to do that. “They did it the first year without remuneration, but once they realized it was a union issue, they didn’t want to do it without union support,” says Principal Nancy Mayer of Vaughn Occupational High.

In 1996, a year before the board tried to impose advisories, teachers at Hyde Park Academy approved a contract waiver to offer 45-minute advisories four times a week. Beginning next year, advisories will hew to the board-union agreement on 30 minutes a week.

However, John Waitrowski says students will benefit. “It was difficult for kids to get involved where no credit is given. It will be a lot easier to get kids to do something constructive at a half hour a week, rather than 45 minutes a day, which was becoming a chore.”