High Schools Change Schedule to Better Suit Remote Model

by Julian Phillips, Freelance Editor
photo courtesy of Newton Public Schools

Administrators have created a modified class schedule in response to the School Committee’s decision to reopen Newton high schools in an all-remote model.

The all-remote learning schedule, as proposed in the NPS Return to Learn Blueprint on Aug. 10, features 90-minute blocks on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, with shorter classes between 35 and 45 minutes on Wednesdays. Classes will meet three times per week.

Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Education Toby Romer said that classes will be structured to allow for variation, with students spending time away from Zoom.

“The 90-minute classes are not designed to be 90-minute Zoom sessions, but rather a 90-minute block of time for students to work on their class,” he said.

Sophomore Daniel Ben-Levi said that he feels optimistic about the change in class time.

“Especially over Zoom, I think it’s going to make it hard to focus for that long a period of time, but I think if it’s used properly and we change topics, that change of pace could actually be helpful,” he said.

English teacher Jeremiah Hill said his class will be structured differently day to day.

“For English it would probably be some combination of group discussion and maybe some kind of writing exercise where everyone gets off Zoom for a little while,” he said. “The idea is that every class period you’re doing several different things.”

Nonetheless, history teacher Eugene Stein said teachers were left in the dark about what class time should look like for too long.

“I would say that from the superintendent’s office and the administrative side, [teachers] have not been given a lot of time to prepare our classes,” he said.

Administrators adjusted the frequency and length of electives, with every class now meeting three times per week. Traditional semester-long electives will now be term-long, while traditional full-year electives will now be semester-long.

Many fine and performing arts and wellness electives have merged due to the constraints of a remote model. There is now one general “Junior and Senior Wellness” course, with a separate Sports Nutrition class.

In addition to in-school schedule changes, a Sept. 7 community update announced that high schools will begin at 9:15 a.m. and end at 3:55 p.m.

“For a high-school student, the later the better,” Stein said. “It’s been proven through all kinds of documentation that high-school students learn much better and are much more awake starting at 9:15 a.m.”

The addition of new flex and community blocks on Tuesdays and Fridays proved just as unexplained as the rest of the schedule, Stein said.

According to Director of Guidance Dan Rubin, community blocks are no different from advisory. The terminology is now consistent across the two high schools. Community will be held twice weekly for 30 minutes each.

Flex blocks will function similarly to J blocks, with time for students to meet with teachers. School-wide events will occur during flex blocks. Extracurriculars, including clubs and sports, have a separate allotted time after the end of the school day. In addition to 55-minute Tuesday and Friday flex blocks, there is a shorter block on Wednesdays.

Ben-Levi said that the new schedule seems like the best solution given the remote approach.

“I don’t think anything online is ever going to replace what we did in person,” he said. “But as far as we have to do it online, I think this is a pretty good start.”