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Somerset HS moving to flex mod schedule

Somerset High School Principal Shannon Donnelly and several staff members spent several days constructing the new flex mod master schedule by hand rather than using a computer. Donnelly expects individual student schedules to be completed by mid July. Submitted photo1 / 2
This is an example of what a 10th grader's weekly schedule could look like under the new flex mod master schedule. Submitted photo2 / 2

The start of every school year brings changes, with new students and teachers coming into the school. But the 2018-2019 school year at Somerset High School will also bring a change to the master schedule.

"The best way to explain it is that it is very non-traditional and for many schools it might not be the right fit. For here, and frankly it starts with my educational philosophy, I have a hard time with traditional," said principal Shannon Donnelly. "School cannot look like it did 100 years ago. And right now, for the most part, it still does."

Students and teachers alike will get their first look at the new flexible modular schedule next fall. Every day will start with a 30-minute advisory period, which will cover things such as teaching students how to navigate through a flex mod schedule as well as character education — which includes team building and relationship building — and school spirit events or times when clubs meet.

"We are trying to kick off the day by creating some good relationships between students and staff," Donnelly said.

The rest of the day is then broken up into 20, 20-minute mods. Teachers within their departments have taken the last few months, according to Donnelly, to design their classes to determine how many mods they might need in a given day or week.

"Just like our students shouldn't be funneled through a one-size-fits-all system, I don't believe the needs of each class in our building should also be one-size-fits-all. For example, the needs of a chemistry class are likely going to be very different than the needs of an algebra one class," Donnelly said. "We gave teachers a lot of autonomy and flexibility to 'phase' or create those classes in whatever way they saw fit."

Throughout the week, students will have mods where they are unscheduled in a class, which is called "flex time." Students will have the opportunity to choose what they do with that time, which could be used to connect with a teacher, retake a test, to study or use the time to meet with a group to work on a project.

"That for us was one of the biggest selling points of the flex mod schedule: giving the kids the opportunity to make choices about their learning. I feel strongly about the fact that we can't expect kids to be good decision makers if we don't give them the opportunities to make decisions," Donnelly said. "We know, working in a business of children, that those decisions aren't always going to be perfect so we will help the kids work through those things. I'd rather help them work through those mistakes while they are still with us than have them try to navigate those mistakes once they leave Somerset High School."

According to Donnelly, there will be content teachers available in "resource centers" throughout every mod to give students help in any given subject with the four main content areas always having someone available for students to connect with. Having time to connect with teachers, their fellow students and to finish their work was one of the big things students wanted from a new schedule, according to their responses to a survey conducted by the school.

"We are really trying to move away from the idea that the teacher is the sole holder of all the content in an area because no longer is that true with the invention of Google and every other way you can find the information," Donnelly said. "We want kids to be able to access — during their flex time — a presentation from math class or a screencast that a teacher did for social studies. That is something that teachers are already starting to dabble in, but they are really excited for next year since the new schedule will really flip upside down how we traditionally do school."

The school year will still be split into semesters and there has been no loss of instructional time, Donnelly said. The instructional time will be the same, it is just going to be spread out differently.

"In addition to wanting to find a way to offer more opportunities for our students, we wanted to ensure that we were providing scheduled time during the school day for staff to connect with kids and provide interventions and extensions to students. With our six-period day, we just found that difficult to do," Donnelly said. "I feel pretty strongly that trying to push, in the 21st century, kids through a one-size-fits-all system — which is what most of education looks like right now — doesn't best prepare our students for the world outside of our school doors."

The school went through a vigorous research process with the staff investigating a wide variety of master schedules, from very traditional to what they ended up with in the flexible modular schedule, which is non-traditional. As part of their research, staff at the high school conducted site visits and Google Hangouts with schools across multiple states to explore what they were doing in their schools and then trying to envision how those masters plans would translate to SHS. In doing their research, Donnelly said that they found a couple schools in southern Wisconsin and a pair of schools in North Dakota who use a similar master schedule system to the one Somerset will be using.

"When we made the decision that the flex mod schedule was the direction we were going to go in, I took a step back said 'Do we feel like this is something we can push out in the fall?' Because it is going to be a lot of work. And the staff did not even think twice and said that they were not going to wait another year," Donnelly said. "They said that they would do what they needed to do in order to get it ready for next fall. It is all really exciting."

Donnelly and several staff members spent several days putting the schedules together by hand — in order to have students choose between classes as much as possible — and are expecting to have the individual student schedules completed by mid July.

For more information on the new high school flex mod schedule, visit somerset.k12.wi.us/high/ or contact Shannon Donnelly at sdonnelly@somerset.k12.wi.us.

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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