Portsmouth High students, staff 'troubled' by scheduling changes

New ‘waterfall’ schedule would threaten CTE program, they say

By Kristen Ray
Posted 11/23/19

PORTSMOUTH — A prospective change to the Portsmouth High School class schedule prompted students, parents and teachers to speak out during a packed School Committee meeting Tuesday …

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Portsmouth High students, staff 'troubled' by scheduling changes

New ‘waterfall’ schedule would threaten CTE program, they say

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — A prospective change to the Portsmouth High School class schedule prompted students, parents and teachers to speak out during a packed School Committee meeting Tuesday night.

As of now, students at the high school are following a block A/B calendar, with certain classes changing depending on the day. Yet only 22 percent of students, senior Fiona Dooley reported, are meeting the 330 required minutes of instruction per day. 

Recently, Superintendent Ana Riley has advocated for a switch to a “waterfall” schedule, where classes are held at different times depending on the day. It’s a proposition that has left some in the district deeply concerned.

"I am troubled, on a few levels," said Gary Vaspol, a PHS film instructor with two children at the high school.

He, Fiona and PHS educator Lisa Zabel took to the podium during the meeting's public comment portion Tuesday to call attention to the adverse effects such a switch would have — namely on the school's Career and Tech Education (CTE) program, which Mr. Vaspol said is "regarded as one of the best in the state."

"It got there primarily because of the time that we have with these students allows us to go deeper," he said. 

Yet under the new structure, he said, there would be less time for instruction. Not only that, but students would be taking fewer credits, forcing them to choose between extracurriculars. 

"That's why I moved here," Mr. Vaspol said. "That's why a lot of people move here."

Ms. Zabel shared similar concerns, while Fiona urged school committee members to consider the financial implications before making any changes. 

"Always remember to put the student before the salary," Ms. Zabel said.

Students, Fiona said, "overwhelming" prefer the block scheduling system — 85 percent, according to a recent survey conducted by the School Improvement Team. For teachers, that number is 95 percent. 

She stated her intent to place the topic on the committee's next agenda, while Mr. Vaspol requested more open dialogue before any changes are made. 

"Might we take a thoughtful pause?" he asked. 

The school committee will next meet on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

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