Mr. Pernick presents the cons of a nine-period day: Board of Education considers changing the block schedule to save money

Seth Barshay, Sports Editor

A discussion on possibly changing the current block schedule to a more traditional nine-period day to reduce expenses began at a contentious Port Washington Board of Education (BOE) meeting on Oct. 21.
The main focus of the meeting was Principal Mr. Ira Pernick’s presentation regarding whether changing the current block system would result in financial savings.
Mr. Pernick’s report did not indicate that there would be any savings as a result of switching from our current block system to a nine-period day. He found it could actually potentially increase spending while reducing students’ flexibility and course offerings.  
Like neighboring schools, our school has to make cuts due to tax-cap levy legislation. Along with his evaluation of the costs of the current schedule, Mr. Pernick described the the school’s current modified block system and explained its benefits.
Many teachers agree that the current block system has many benefits for students.   One such benefit is that each class is an hour long.
“The main thing that helps students out is that when teachers are teaching an hour class they’re not going to spend the whole time lecturing,” said physics teacher Mr. Thom Johnson, who was instrumental in the design of Schreiber’s modified block schedule in 1998. “There is more room for demonstrations, discussions, collaborative problem solving, different modes of thought and different modes of learning.  We have the time and flexibility to teach the students in a number of different ways.”
Mr. Pernick discussed that another current benefit is that students have more time during the school day to get extra help. In a nine-period day, it is usually more difficult to find times to meet with teachers.
“Extra help is a big part of the way that we do it,” said Mr. Johnson. “When I taught at a school that had a nine-period day, I never saw students during the day because there was never time for them to ask me questions. But here, I would say on the majority of days, somebody is in my room asking questions about physics. The kids who want to get help are able to get help this way.”
Mr. Pernick explained that the schedule also provides an opportunity for students to take a variety of classes. The previous schedule, known as a mod schedule, caused conflicts for students wishing to take many classes.
In addition, students are able to take up to nine classes at Schreiber while still having lunch; at other Long Island schools with nine-period schedules, students can only take the same amount of courses by opting out of their lunches.
According to Mr. Pernick, the modified block schedule allows for increased class selection and opportunities to take more electives.
“What our schedule allows us to do and what it allows students to do is a great advantage to students and student learning,” said Assistant Principal Mr. David Miller. “It really creates the ability to offer students higher level classes and a diversity of programming and the ability for students to learn how to manage their time better and prepare for college.  All these are tremendous benefits.”   
Mr. Pernick believes that Schreiber’s schedule is unique in that the school faculty customized it to the school’s needs, instead of just implementing the same schedule that nearly every other Long Island public school uses.
If the school switched back to a traditional nine-period class schedule, students would have fewer options for class selection. For example, there might be more standardized English courses for upperclassmen and a less diverse selection of physical education courses, not including outdoor gym. It also would likely mean the cutting of several AP courses because of less flexibility in the structure of the schedule.
“When you look at schools that have a much more traditional day, it doesn’t mean they don’t have AP classes or IB classes. It just means that the majority of the kids are the kids in the middle, and you see a lot more standard and traditional programs,” said Mr. Pernick.
With its students already stressed from large amounts of homework, the school switching back to a nine-period schedule would exacerbate this issue because it would mean having classes every day as opposed the majority of classes being four out of every six day cycle. As a result, it would be possible for a student to have up to nine assignments due the next day.  
“Part of what we do is to make it so that kids have a smaller number of classes which makes for less stress with homework,” said Mr. Johnson.  “That way, they can focus on just those few classes that they might have the very next day.”
In addition, with teachers having more sections per day, it is likely that a change in schedules would result in the end of cancelled classes from teacher absences. Because too many children would have to miss class that day, the school might need to change its policy regarding class cancellations in the case of a new schedule.
Mr. Pernick also does not foresee the potential change happening right away, but if a change does occur, he wants students to be involved in the decision.
“Don’t anticipate a change for next year. We might be asked to put together a larger task force soon. If we do, we would most certainly include students.”  
While the tax cap necessitates that cuts need to happen somewhere in the school, Pernick has not decided where they will be, and he remains confident that Schreiber will still be a top school.
“We’re going to be a great school no matter what the offerings are,” said Mr. Pernick. “Great schools are built upon the people inside them.  Schedules don’t make great schools.  Schedules are just schedules.  Buildings are just a physical structure.  It’s the heart of what exists inside of schools that makes them special.  And that’s why I think we’re going to be great for a long, long time.”