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The Power of Partnership, Innovation and Learning

School Desk Blog: How can we optimize the Ukiah High School experience?

Ukiah High School is considering alternative schedules to optimize the support and experience we offer students, staff, and families. We’re looking at how we do business to improve our business. By nature, schools are traditional institutions. On the one hand, this makes sense, stability in an institution tends to serve large and diverse populations well. On the other hand, our society is shifting significantly and rapidly. So it’s not a small matter when a school considers changing the structure of the day. We invite your input.

For decades Ukiah High School has operated with virtually the same schedule - what’s called a six-period day. For a time, students could opt to take a seventh class. As noted above, our society has changed significantly in those decades. Consider any element of who we are and how we interact, and there are significant differences from just forty years ago. Schools have three primary resources - money, time, and people. For UHS, money is a fixed amount. But we can adjust how we use time and people.

In considering change, we’re beginning with two broad questions. What do we do well, and what do we need to improve? What we do well will likely reveal how we best use time and people. This inventory will also tell us what might not be necessary or useful. Knowing that will free up the resources to pursue solutions to improve. Our objective is to best use time and people to optimize Ukiah High School for students, staff, and families.

In thinking of students, the word support is a focal point. Some students need fundamental support to be successful in the courses it takes to graduate. Students taking the most challenging courses need time in their day to complete work and sometimes get help on a specific job. Athletes and working students also need time. Students need social-emotional counseling support, and they need this support at many different levels. 

All students need focused and intentional support to navigate this world in a thoughtful, healthy, and compassionate manner. Strikingly, schools don’t allocate much, if any, time to achieve these objectives. Our current structure was designed to teach subjects to students in six classes a day. In many ways, we do that well, and I could write endless columns about this success. But our current system was designed at a time that never imagined the world we live in today. We can do what we do well even better by planning to provide the necessary support for students.

Looking at how we use time can also improve the teaching experience. Effective teachers work hard, very hard. Creating powerful learning experiences in the classroom takes time. Evaluation of student work takes more time. That work occurs outside the school day. 

In class, teachers are teaching curriculum and striving to provide diverse support for students noted above. Teachers also need time to work together to improve practice and discuss how to best support individual students. Clearly, the time demands are unrealistic. We’ve known this for a long time. We’ve done little to improve the situation. Our mission in looking at the structure of our day involves considering how to create a schedule that moves us closer to what is possible for teachers.

School affects families. When you send your child to school for much of the day, they return home, reflecting on their experience. This reflection includes the pace and experience of the day described above. Additionally, assigned homework places unique demands on parents. Parenting is a difficult task. We have to motivate, cajole, and tutor. We have to show that we are vulnerable because we can’t help our child with a difficult assignment. We have to work and sleep. And we need to find time to laugh with our children and love them. I’d ask parents the same question we’re asking students and teachers - how can we change the way we do business to improve your experience at home as it pertains to the school?

Many schools have adopted schedules that work to better support students, staff, and families. It may also be that the answers aren’t to be found in changing the structure of the day. Change is difficult, but the analysis should not be. Before arriving at any conclusion with any amount of support or resistance, we are committed to looking thoroughly at what is working and what we need to improve to optimize Ukiah High School. 

We look forward to your input and ideas on how to best structure our schedule or any other aspect of the high school journey, email me at goslund@uusd.net or call 707.472.5751.