At the beginning of the 2015–2016 school year, the Lenape Regional High School District implemented what Superintendent Carol Birnbohm described as one of the biggest changes the district had ever seen outside of new construction — a new bell schedule.
The former 42-minute-long class periods grew to 57 minutes. Days once broken into 13 periods were reduced to six, and lunch was drastically redesigned to combine what was five lunch periods into one common “community lunch and learn” period in the middle of the day.
Students now only attend each of their classes three times within a four-day rotation, meeting with different classes at different times depending on what day it is within the rotation.
At the most recent meeting of LRHSD Board of Education, Birnbohm updated the board and parents on how the district’s nearly 7,000 students and 1,100 staff members were handling the change.
According to Birnbohm, the proposed benefits of the schedule have been playing out very close to the district’s projections, with increases and improvements to instructional time, staff collaboration and overall efficiency. Birnbohm said the district has observed a reduction in lateness and an improvement to overall daily attendance.
Birnbohm said those trends might be attributable to the elimination of homeroom at the beginning of the day, meaning students are in their first class as soon as the school day begins, and with students not meeting for each of their classes every day of the week, Birnbohm said there might be more of a drive to attend school regularly.
Birnbohm said overall disruptions to classes have also decreased — a trend she said stemmed from the longer period for community lunch and learn in the middle of the school day.
“Kids have that time in the middle of the day to go on the errands they need or maybe schedule meetings with their counselors or so forth and they weren’t getting out of class to do that,” Birnbohm said.
With the community lunch and learn period, Birnbohm said students also have more time to spend with friends, study and make up work for classes.
Birnbohm said students were also taking fewer study halls and instead using their extra time to take more lab sciences, and with the longer community lunch and learn period, there has been a greater interaction among staff members, students and administrators as more people are free at the same time.
“It shows a big community in community lunch and learn, and I don’t want to lose that word … I don’t like when people just call it ‘lunch and learn’ and I keep on correcting them and say ‘no, it’s community lunch and learn.’ It’s important to remember that,” Birnbohm said.
According to Birnbohm, teachers have also been reporting more efficient prep time that has been used to re-craft former lessons, as with the longer class periods, teachers can no longer simply lecture for the entire session.
Birnbohm said those lessons have included more student activity, increased discussion and more group work.
Birnbohm said teachers have also praised the schedule, as it allows teachers of different departments to meet with their department colleagues during a period for two days out of every four-day rotation. During those periods, Birnbohm said teachers also have more time to collaborate and discuss lessons.
“They’re all great professional tasks that we never really made time for our teachers to do during the instructional day, and it’s really nice to see our teachers using this time for collaboration,” Birnbohm said.
Birnbohm said the number of disciplinary infractions has also been greatly reduced.