Haddonfield School District considering new blocking system in middle school and high school

Alterations to traditional eight-period structure seeks to benefit students’ well-being.

At the latest Haddonfield Board of Education meeting, Haddonfield Middle School Principal Tracy Ann Matozzo and Haddonfield Memorial High School Principal Tammy McHale gave brief presentations on what newly structured school days would look like for their respective institutions.

Aligning with the district’s new mission statement, “We nurture, we inspire, we empower,” and its three core competencies: social-emotional learning, cultural competency and a 21st-century learning mindset, HMS and HMHS are attempting to embrace a more comprehensive schedule for the 2019-20 academic year.

“As we move into the future, we wanted to make sure to highlight how we are going to nurture, empower and inspire our children and going full-speed ahead. The work that we did spoke to schedules, and what master schedules look like, and what the children have access to, and where equity is found,” Matozzo said.

“We found inequities with our schedule with regard to contact times, how much time students were not receiving in certain areas, like arts and music, and we wanted to make sure we had a comprehensive, rigorous and inclusive education for our children.”

At the middle-school level, Matozzo introduced what she termed the “Bulldawg Block” for each grade level – which will align the school week with the calendar’s five-day week – versus the current “Tutorial” model where the school rotates on a six-day cycle over the traditional 180-day school year.

Under the old schedule, students are scheduled for “Tutorial” during eighth period, a time designed for students to request help with, or work on, their homework. Under the old six-day rotation, students only had a maximum of 30-days’ exposure to music and art and other electives.

Under the new A-B schedule, the “Bulldawg Block” of 47/48-minute classes will be held at different times of the day depending upon grade level. This will offer all students the opportunity to receive intervention on A-Days and musical enrichment on B-Days.

Beginning in the fall, under the new block scheduling, Matozzo said students in sixth grade will receive 90 days of art instruction and 90 days of technology education. Techniques of Writing will be added to the eighth-grade sequence for all students next year.

In addition, the middle school decided to bump up its lunch period into a 50-minute split: 30 minutes for lunch and 20 minutes for recess, to emphasize that relaxation of eating along with exercise are critical components of students’ mental and physical health.

According to the district’s recently-released March newsletter, sample schedules for next year’s middle-school students will be available by late spring to help parents understand the change.

At the high school, schedule alterations won’t appear to be as radical, but will still differ from traditional models.

“We looked at scheduling opportunities this year for a variety of reasons. It’s putting pieces of the puzzle together that we didn’t realize we were stumbling upon. We were looking at the social and emotional stress of the day, the level of stress and anxiety. We had a lot of interviews with the student board of education representatives, and every single student mentioned a goal of theirs, as a board of ed rep, was to deal with that,” said McHale.

“One of the focuses of the social-emotional was looking at the data. The second-leading cause of death for 15- to 34-year-olds is suicide. And I feel like, as a society, we cannot afford to ignore that. As we explore scheduling, we looked at Princeton, and their whole focus was on a new-bell schedule that was geared towards the exact same thing: social and emotional well-being.”

McHale revealed, in examining the Princeton model, those involved in the schedule-alteration discussions arrived at a new block schedule that maintained a six-day rotation but split between four days of traditional schedule and two days of 80-minute class blocks.

Ideally, this new scheduling would give students more time to digest information, discuss content, better problem-solve and collaborate among themselves. McHale said the opinion of students she solicited on the issue agreed with that assessment.

Like the middle school, McHale has her eyes on expanding and altering traditional lunch periods into equal status with other classroom sessions. But at the high school, the social and emotional component of stretching that period to a full hour would be expanded as well.

“Schools call it ‘smart lunch’ and it gives time for office hours, collaboration with your teachers. What we talked about the possibility of having freshmen and sophomores, in the first 30 minutes, assigned a space, so for two years, they would have an adult mentor, to make a connection with, who isn’t just standing there teaching them new content. Making that connection, I think, is pretty important,” she said.

McHale recently took a team of those invested in schedule alterations to Princeton for a deeper look into its school-day block scheduling, and found several key issues that would influence discussions for Haddonfield: students rarely opt out of a physical-education class, are not allowed to double up on certain core subjects like science, and are not allowed to take a full eight-period course load so they can maintain a sense of social and emotional balance.

In shifting to block scheduling, McHale said there needs to be further investigation into whether a net loss in instructional time would result. She also noted there might be some resistance to an overhaul of class structure due to Haddonfield School District’s consistently high rank in the state, but professed faith the student body, administration and parents could accomplish this for the benefit of all.

In other news:

  • The board approved a new K-8 Gifted Program to be implemented for the 2019-20 school year.
  • Haddonfield Middle School eighth-grader Rania Kolluri was commended for winning the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Among her efforts was the collection and distribution of more than 200 toys to needy children in Camden and Philadelphia.
  • HMHS eighth-grader Celia Wojcik was commended for gaining a spot in the All South Jersey Junior High Band and Olympic Conference Junior High Honors band playing the oboe.