Administrators at The Dalles Wahtonka High School are already preparing for the coming school year, including rolling out a brand new schedule that will increase instruction time.
“We’re trying to build stronger ties academically and relationally with our kids,” Principal Nick Nelson said of the reasons behind the schedule change.
Students will attend all seven of their classes on Mondays, four of their classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the other three on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Nelson said the 90-minute class periods on most days will cut down on the time wasted transitioning between classes — usually five minutes between class, another five minutes to get started and five or ten minutes’ worth of wrap-up time at the end.
On Fridays, students will continue to have a late start while teachers work on professional development. During that same block of time in the morning on Wednesdays Nelson is introducing a concept he calls Awesome.
During Awesome students will have the opportunity to participate in a “selective,” basically a club with a pass/fail grade. For example, Nelson said students can sign up with him for geocaching, a sort of high-tech treasure hunt using GPS devices. Other teachers are considering running clubs based on hobbies like rapping and improvisational theater.
However, students who have an “incomplete” grade — anything below a C — will have to work with a teacher on bringing up their grades instead of participating in a club, in addition to having to stay an extra half hour after school for Teacher Access Time three days a week.
Nelson said he hopes the Awesome concept will provide incentive for students to bring up their grades, put some of the fun back into school and help students form closer bonds with teachers.
“We’re offering these selectives so that kids can take something of interest to them and have an opportunity to build a connection and a stronger relationship with a teacher. We’re focusing on that this year,” Nelson said.
For the first nine weeks all freshmen will take a selective called “Ninth grade foundations” meant to help them better integrate into their new school.
Nelson said the new schedule will also increase passing time between classes from five minutes to ten minutes, a move he said will cut down on the “tardy problem” by giving students enough time to talk with a teacher, visit their locker or wait in line in the bathroom and still get to class on time.
The changes Nelson is making at the school are all designed with educational reforms in mind. As required by law, the school will soon be implementing the rigorous common core curriculum, switching from the OAKS state testing model to the Smarter Balanced test and requiring students to pass a math, reading and writing assessment in order to graduate. The new achievement compacts already hold schools responsible for things like graduation rates and attendance in addition to test scores.
All of those reforms mean the bar is being raised for high schools across the state, and Nelson said the changes being made at The Dalles Wahtonka High School are designed to help students step up to meet the more rigorous standards.
“All of it is tied to enhancing learning and increasing student performance,” he said.
Teachers are also being required to step up their game. They will attend trainings on making the most of the new block schedule before school starts and will work on improving their curriculum during their professional learning community time on Friday mornings.
This year TDW students will also have access to professional mentors from the Aspire program, administered by the Oregon Student Access Commission, as a way to help students plan for and pay for college. Nelson said students will benefit from the help of the mentors, but they will also have access to more scholarship money because of the schools’ involvement with Aspire.
Nelson said the school’s counselors are coming in next week to begin building each student’s schedule. High school registration will take place Aug. 14 and 16 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Aug. 15 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.