Author Archives: hbolling

Today’s meeting with school and Board of Education representatives

Note: This is the same message that has been posted on the Facebook page, repeated for your convenience.

Today a group of us met with both Assistant Superintendents, Mr. Last, Mr. Jira, Ms. Fitzkee, and Ms. Powers. The meeting was cordial enough, but they made it perfectly clear at the beginning and end that they do not consider continuing a semester block schedule as an option, and do not see any path that would let them keep that in place.

It’s not completely negative, though. In just the past few days, the Board of Education has given the school permission to be “as creative as they need to be to guarantee the students’ success.” What that means is that, in many cases, they will be scheduling classes that would have taken sequential semesters as concurrent courses on an A/B basis, and simply teaching one for the first half of the year, and the other for the second half.

For the relatively large number of parallel enrollments and spring interns, they are taking pains to schedule the necessary classes in the morning, to facilitate those activities and minimize the impact of eliminating the semester model.

The biggest benefit they see is elimination of instructional gaps, such as a student taking English in fall semester one year, and not again until spring the following year. According to Mr. Jira, who is the school scheduling guru, between 40% and 45% of the students are in that situation, which causes known problems.

The team also spent a fair amount of time talking about students with special needs, but I will let someone closer to those issues address what their impressions were

The good news, according to the guidance and scheduling team, is that few students will notice a difference, and they are committed to working with individual students where needed to solve schedule problems.

The bad news, according to us, is that the commitment is from the existing school team, and whether we like it or not, that is subject to change.

There’s little doubt that the school has significantly more flexibility than it did several days ago. It was inferred that the additional flexibility could have been due, at least in part, to the pressure that has been brought to bear by the community.

Pat yourselves on the back a little. Not too much; we’re not finished yet.

Five Ways to Get Your Email Ignored

We need you to email all your friends. We need you and your friends to email Dr. Dance, Maria Lowry, and Mr. Last.

We also need you to get your email read. Please don’t do the things on this list.

1) Repeat a lot of facts.

By this time, it’s safe to presume that the message is pretty widespread. If you want to turn people off, repeat the facts they already know.

It’s safe and effective to say “If you need more background, go here.”

2) Write a long message.

Email is like sushi — small pieces and variety work best. If someone has to scroll to get to the bottom of your email, chances are they won’t.

Email should be less than one smartphone screen long wherever possible.

3) Don’t include a call to action.

If you don’t want something, don’t ask! Keep people confused about why you’re sending the message.

Or, you could have a subject like, “Please send emails for us!” Ask in the body of the message, too. For example, “We need you to send email to Dr. Dance (ddance@bcps.org) and Maria Lowry (mlowry@bcps.org) to tell them you support keeping Hereford High School’s current schedule.”

4) Make sure everyone sees the correspondent list.

People love to scroll through your list of two hundred friends, and adore having their email address publicized to all of them. Not!

Put your list in the BCC field, unless you really want everyone to know who you’re sending to.

5) Say the exact same thing as someone else.

Copy/paste is easy, so everyone should use it, right? Wrong!

Make your email personal. Speak from your experience or belief. You can use facts to bolster your point, but first-hand experience and stories will have more impact. “My son benefits from the current scheduling model, so please don’t change it” is a good subject line for an email to the administration, as is “I’m a sophomore, and won’t be able to get the classes I need if you change the scheduling model.” “I support keeping the current schedule” just doesn’t have the same impact.

Happy emailing!

Here are some facts to use when you’re talking to media, or people who need to be convinced

This link will get you a PDF file that has performance numbers and other facts to help you get the message out.

One interesting thing that was brought to my attention last night, but which isn’t in the PDF, is an observation that there is no evidence that changing away from the schedule we currently have will have a positive effect on test scores. There is, however, anecdotal evidence that just the opposite is true — HHS students’ performance is at risk if we lose the semester block schedule.

Hereford-High-School-Save-the-Semester-Block-Schedule.pdf

A Little Bit of History — Leading Up to and Including the November 5 Board of Education Meeting

Dr. S. Dallas Dance [link to page], Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent, engaged Scholastic Scheduling Solutions to evaluate the Baltimore County master scheduling process, which has been haphazard in the past, and (he perceives) causing several problems. Additional studies were done by the consultants to recommend improved practices for master scheduling, and to evaluate the bell schedule of County schools.

Links:

Board of Education Meeting 11-5-2013 (alternate direct link)

The decision came to our attention shortly after the November 5 Board meeting, but was obviously in play before then. At that meeting:

Abby Beytin, President of TABCO (Teachers Association of Baltimore County — the collective bargaining unit), speaks (starting at 7min30sec) on the master schedule change, and expresses dissatisfaction with the fact that the change was not discussed with the teachers’ organization in advance, and that self-determination is being taken away from the schools.

Bill Lawrence, Executive Director of CASE (Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees — the principal’s union) speaks (beginning at 18min50sec) on the change, and stipulates that Baltimore County is highly diverse, and one size does not fit all. He suggests that each school should retain the right to choose, and requested a delay in implementation for further study and comment.

Superintendent Dance speaks (beginning at 1hr10min) on the subject of scheduling, and summarizes that, at one year into a four year process, and that the factors in his decision are:

  • mobility of students, primarily within Baltimore County, causes some students to have to “sit out” and miss classes or repeat courses
  • “student choice” (primarily as it relates to a partnership with CCBC) needs to be increased;
  • staff allocation should be increased (primarily applied to schools with eight period days); and
  • he is working with schools (also with Assistant Superintendents Mark Bedell and Maria Lowry) on the best approach.

It’s fairly obvious that Dr. Dance needs a little help realizing how different Hereford High School is from the other 60% of the County. That’s why we’re here.

What Makes Hereford High School Different From the Rest of the County?

In the Zone, we all know the differences from the rest of the County, but we need to spell out the differences that are relevant to the Superintendent’s decision to force a change to our scheduling model.

The fact that we’re so spread out that some of our kids spend an hour on the bus in each direction means they have less time for homework, but that doesn’t mean a hill of beans to the schedule.

Hereford High School gets singular results, due to a “culture of deliberate excellence,” to echo the Team BCPS mission. Our 2012 graduation rate was over 95%, compared to 87% for the County, and 86% for the State. 73% of Hereford graduates head for four-year colleges. That’s almost 50% higher than the County’s 49% and State’s 50%! Hereford works.

At the last Board meeting, Dr. Dance reported to the Board that there were three factors that influenced the announced change to master scheduling direction.

The first one of those was student mobility, primarily within the County. According to school administration, Hereford’s transfer student population hovers around one percent – it’s a very stable population.

The next factor was student choice. Hereford’s unique four period, semester schedule maximizes student choice. It allows them to fit more course advancement into a single year, if they wish. That gives them an incredible advantage in the competition for quality colleges, and is also reflected in performance. Hereford students’ composite SAT scores are over 200 points higher than the average for the County and State. Hereford students’ AP test scores – the mean grade per exam, and percent of exams with scores in the 3 to 5 range – are significantly higher than the County or State. Hereford works.

The last factor Dr. Dance mentioned was an opportunity to better allocate staff. I would assert that the unique master schedule at Hereford does just that. A change, even to a four period A/B schedule, would double the number of students that a teacher has at any given time. That doubles the teachers’ grading load, and dilutes their attention by spreading it out to a full school year.  Our teachers are superstars. We support their current scheduling framework, and applaud their dedication. They’re a large part of the reason that Hereford works.

Note: Performance numbers for this post are from http://mdreportcard.org/. This stuff’s too good to make up!

Hello world!

This is a quick website designed for communicating with folks interested in our efforts to maintain autonomy for bell scheduling at Hereford High School. Over the next few days, we’ll build out content to explain the history of our challenge, what we want, and what you can do to help.

If there’s something you want to see on the site, let us know in a comment. All comments are moderated, so the world won’t see them unless they’re general (and clean, and respectful…)