Faculty, students at Willmar Schools express support for block schedule, new survey shows

WILLMAR -- A recent survey indicated that a majority of the faculty at Willmar Senior High support the school's block schedule and want to see it continue.

WILLMAR -- A recent survey indicated that a majority of the faculty at Willmar Senior High support the school's block schedule and want to see it continue.

Staff members told the Willmar School Board Tuesday afternoon that they continue to look for ways to improve the schedule, which was adopted when the Senior High opened in 1994.

The board had scheduled the workshop Tuesday to discuss the block schedule. They heard from administrators, students and faculty about how the schedule works for them. Board members shared concerns they had heard from the public.

The schedule includes a day with four 85-minute class periods, a departure from the more traditional high school schedule of seven or eight shorter class periods per day. A one-semester class in the block schedule covers the same material as a year-long class in a traditional schedule.

Principal Rob Anderson ran down what he sees as some of the advantages of a block schedule. They include the opportunity to take more elective classes, and a more peaceful, less stressful day with fewer breaks between classes when the building's 1,300 students are all in the halls.


More than a dozen faculty members, many department heads at the high school, attended the meeting. Faculty members said the longer class periods allow them to vary activities during their classes and to make sure students understand concepts.

Several students, all seniors, said they had been pleased with the block schedule and feel it has worked well for them. Ali Unger said she's been able to take six science classes at the high school, something she couldn't have done in a different type of schedule.

Board Chairman Mike Carlson said he had heard comments about block schedule. The teachers asked what the comments were, so they could address them.

Carlson said he hears from parents who don't understand the schedule or things like "skinny" classes offered in conjunction with music classes.

Social studies teacher Lyle Hovland said the faculty doesn't often hear comments about scheduling. "I didn't realize we should be educating parents about why we use the block schedule," he said, but it was something they could address.

While his son has excelled at the high school, board member Eric Roberts said he has been concerned that his interest in music limited his access to some elective courses. He asked the faculty members to continue looking for ways to offer elective classes during the last half of music classes.

Independent study courses have worked for some students, said industrial technology teacher Mike Kroeker.

Board member Wayne Lenzmeier said he's heard complaints about teachers walking halls and signing in visitors at the school's main door. Teachers, by contract, have preparation time set aside each day. Since the class periods at the high school are longer, teachers are allowed part of a class period as preparation time and are assigned other duties for a half hour of each prep period.


Teachers at the meeting said they don't always like the hallway or visitor sign-in duty, either, but it helps keep the school safe, and it's another way for them to connect with kids and to meet some parents.

Board member Shawn Mueske said he wanted to know about the shortfalls of the system. Kim Rhody, math department head, said the state continues to add graduation requirements, and it is sometimes difficult to fit all the material into the one-semester courses.

Mueske, a science instructor at Ridgewater College, said he sees Willmar students having trouble adjusting to the pace of college coming from the block system. Anderson asked him if he would collaborate with the high school in advising students about the transition.

"We really do want to get better," Anderson said. "We appreciate getting the feedback."

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