BCPS: Use SEMESTER BLOCK SCHEDULE for virtual high school classes

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July 21, 2020

Dear Dr. Williams and members of the Board of Education of Baltimore County,

Please consider implementing the hybrid semester block schedule for the potential virtual learning for BCPS high schools. This schedule option has already been approved by the Board. On February 19, 2019, the Board  voted to approve the BCPS 2019 School Day Taskforce recommendation for high schools, adding semester classes under the current block schedule, with an authorization process (Exhibit 1).

Four of our BCPS high schools — Catonsville High School, Hereford High School, Kenwood High School and Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts — successfully used this schedule for decades. In 2011, Michelle Shearer, teacher at Urbana High School in Frederick County, was the National Teacher of the Year and taught using the semester block schedule (Ex 2). The only National Teacher of the Year hailing from BCPS is Sean McComb, who taught at Patapsco HS & CFA during that year, 2014, also using the semester block schedule (Ex 3).

Frederick High School in Frederick County has a student population which is very diverse (Ex 4). While implementing the semester block schedule during the 2018-19 school year, Frederick High’s SAT scores outpaced the average in the state of Maryland and over 75% of their AP test-takers earned college credits via their scores (Ex 4). Frederick and Howard Counties will use the hybrid semester block schedule this fall for their high school virtual classes. Howard County has published sample schedules and is also using the semester block schedule for their middle schools (Ex 5, p 16-22).

BCPS high schools already use the four period block schedule uniformly. The change would be to implement only four classes every day per semester. AP courses and others (band/orchestra, etc) would continue to alternate A/B days yearlong.

Implementing a semester block schedule offers critical benefits for teachers and students during this pandemic crisis:

• Reduced student/teacher ratio (Ex 6).

• Teachers teach three classes. Interacting with students more frequently (daily) allows teachers to foster better relationships with students they have not met in person.

• Pedagogy remains the same.

• Students take four classes (less stress for families to deal with four classes instead of eight).

• Focusing on fewer classes helps students’ social-emotional well-being.

• Supports academic requirements for students who struggle and students with special needs; for example, work habits such as being organized are facilitated     (Ex 6).

• High-achieving/gifted students can accelerate through general requirements to more rigorous academic subjects sooner (Ex 6).

• Any future transition from virtual to in-person learning greatly reduces the number of student-teacher interactions because teachers teach three classes and students take four classes (possibly five, depending on factors such as an AP course).

BCPS can improve outcomes for its high school students and their families with a simple change of schedule during this unprecedented challenge of delivering quality instruction during a national pandemic. This letter is for public comment.

Exhibit 1:


Exhibit 2:


Exhibit 3:


Exhibit 4:


Exhibit 5 (p 6 – 22):


Exhibit 6: