Making a few "minor tweaks" in block scheduling - a topic that soon will be addressed by the School Board - as well as student pressures, school rivalries and a shared ACT achievement were shared thoughts from high school principals Don LaBonte and Dan Pavletich as they sat down last week with NOW.
Block scheduling requires a period of adjustment, said LaBonte of Brookfield Central and Pavletich of Brookfield East. While they spoke briefly at a March School Board meeting, they expect to soon return to present their ideas for improving the new schedule. The objective is to carve out more time for student-teacher interaction, an issue parents and students have complained about.
Pointing out that block scheduling was a financial decision that trimmed a few teaching positions at each school, the principals said the 90-minute class schedule provides a new approach to learning.
"It offers a chance to focus more deeply in content areas and over the course of a year students can take more classes," LaBonte said. "Because this is such an academically competitive environment, the traditional schedule would have been loaded up with academic courses and students would not have had the opportunity to explore the more elective areas. They can also accelerate in an area where they have a particular strength."
Pavletich said the block schedule is new territory, meaning students with older siblings can't follow sage advice.
"It is a new road map," he said. "We had some questions and concerns early on because it was such a change. It's more challenging, and there is more intensity."
Because of the change, LaBonte and Pavletich said block scheduling has been blamed for unrelated issues.
This year, no parent complained about their kid not getting a desired class without prefacing it with, "It's all because of this new schedule," LaBonte said. "The schedule gets blamed because it's new. The fact is that over the past few years we have been able to place 97 percent of requests in the traditional schedule and this year in block schedule.
"Scheduling high school is an incredible task," he noted. "We have 18,000 requests and yet we have this very high rate of successfully placing those requests."
Pavletich said the students have been resilient.
"We really haven't had a lot of complaints," he said. "Our teachers and our students have adjusted very well. Teachers have had to learn a new way of teaching in the longer periods."
When they next meet with the board, LaBonte and Pavletich said they expect to successfully address the student-teacher meeting issues. LaBonte said the traditional systems also didn't account for a lot of meeting time. Pavletich noted that they will try to provide after-school opportunities and adjust transportation needs around those accommodations.
"In the last decade or so, it seems that high school is getting more, and not less, competitive," LaBonte said. "I'll throw Facebook out there as an example. Kids using social media sometimes come to school with a chip on their shoulder on a Monday because of what happened over the weekend."
Pavletich added, "Students now need to filter out a lot more distractions."
The prevalent access to technology is one of the reasons why the district has established a policy of allowing cell phone use between classes and during lunch.
"That's new this year," Pavletich said. "We haven't seen any problems."
An honored rivalry
Central and East share a recent honor in being two of only five schools in Wisconsin that have received a Red Quill Legacy Award for ongoing excellence in ACT programs and services.
LaBonte and Pavletich said the award comes courtesy of an excellent staff and continued community interest.
Mutual success can make for a fun rivalry between the schools.
"There's a natural rivalry in athletics because many of the kids went to the same schools when they were younger and have been involved in the same youth programs," Pavletich said.
LaBonte pointed to the high attendance at football games among people without students at either school.
"They come to the games because they are always hotly contested and always fun to watch."
The principals also have fun comparing ACT scores.
"Last year, I found out that we got a 25, which was a great improvement," LaBonte said. "I immediately emailed Dan to see if he had seen their results. Then he got back to me and they had gone up even more.
"But it's exciting because we are both doing well, and when both schools do well, it's good for the entire community."
Welcome to Elmbrook: LaBonte and Pavletich have taught in the district since 1996.
At the chalkboard: LaBonte taught English; Pavletich taught math. Both taught at Brookfield East.
Head of the class:LaBonte has been an administrator for 10 years, eight as principal; Pavletich has been an administrator for five years, two as principal.
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