New Advisory Program Could Bridge School Culture Gap If Implemented Cautiously

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New Advisory Program Could Bridge School Culture Gap If Implemented Cautiously

Local poets worked with students during a TASC advisory period at Contoocook Valley Regional High School. | by ConVal Staff

Local poets worked with students during a TASC advisory period at Contoocook Valley Regional High School. | by ConVal Staff

Local poets worked with students during a TASC advisory period at Contoocook Valley Regional High School. | by ConVal Staff

Local poets worked with students during a TASC advisory period at Contoocook Valley Regional High School. | by ConVal Staff

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by Clement Doucette

Changing the Hudson High School schedule has always been a rocky and difficult process.  

A previous schedule change, conducted in 2013, introduced the current, five-block rotation.  However, since the implementation of this schedule, a committee of concerned faculty members has noticed an increasing divide in our school’s culture.  Teachers June Murray and Lonnie Quirion lead this committee, known as ARC (Academics, Relationships, and Community). Their work began with a desire to mend this cultural divide.

“It felt like we were moving farther and farther away from things that were always really important to me, like service and relationships,” said Murray. “We decided the best way to start this process was by creating a survey and trying to figure out where students and staff landed regarding how things had shifted in our culture.”

The results of the survey confirmed the ARC committee’s beliefs.  Using the survey as a basis for their work, the committee pondered various ways to address the increasing problem.

The results of the ARC survey revealed a divide between students and faculty. | by Clement Doucette

“The idea began with the concept of perhaps having an advisory program,” said Murray. “However, we have a history at Hudson High School when we tried a program similar to an advisory period called “clustering” that didn’t necessarily work as well as we had hoped.”

School administration implemented clustering after the construction of the current Hudson High School building in the early 2000s  It involved students meeting once weekly to participate in a teacher-monitored activity of their choice.  Students and teachers would pick their activities at the start of the school year.  

Although the program functioned in theory, a lack of student participation marred the effectiveness of the program.  Many did not take the programs seriously.  Clustering continued for several years until it was finally discontinued, leaving many faculty members with bad memories.  Still, the ARC committee insists that their advisory program would not face the same struggles that clustering faced.

“I did a lot of talking to people and there was this woman, Rachel Calder, who is probably one of the most cutting edge people who works with schools to help them change their structure,” said Murray. “One of the things she said to me was to contact the ConVal High School in Peterborough, New Hampshire, because they were doing something interesting.”

At Contoocook Valley Regional High School, frequently shortened to “ConVal,” students participate in a daily, 40-minute advisory period called TASC, intended for academic support and enrichment.  At the start of the week, students work with a “home-base” TASC adviser to arrange their schedule for the following four days.  For example, a student struggling with math may choose to work with their math teacher during one of that week’s advisory periods.  During these TASC periods, teachers work with no more than fifteen students at a time.

The ARC committee will base their schedule on the ConVal High School schedule with a 40-minute advisory period. | by Clement Doucette

Although it may seem difficult to track students during the period, a high-tech solution amends this problem.  Teachers conduct scheduling through a custom-made computer program designed by a ConVal staff member.  ConVal offers this program to other interested schools at prices ranging from $1,500 to $3,000, depending on features, and comes with an app that would allow students to access their schedule through the week.  If students do not show up for their advisory period, they face discipline for skipping class.

Gretchen Houseman, a Spanish teacher and member of the ARC committee, sees this scheduling system as a benefit to her students.

“In terms of scheduling, it really calls the students to take ownership of their own schedule, and I really liked that,” said Houseman.  “The students could decide what they were interested in, who they would be with, and where they would go during that time.”

Principal Brian Reagan also appreciates these aspects of the schedule.  He has worked with the ARC committee throughout the program’s development and is a crucial link between ARC teachers and school administration.  Reagan would play a leading role in contract negotiation procedures, the next step in the program’s implementation.

Faculty conduct contract negotiation whenever there is a school change that could alter working conditions.  During this procedure, teachers and faculty meet during labor negotiation meetings to determine if there is a significant change in working conditions that would require amendments to the employee contract.  

“It all depends on how it gets presented from our side and received by the labor side,” said Reagan.  “We did a survey, and we have a decent amount of support among faculty members, so I feel like there is a positive momentum behind it.  I’m hopeful that that isn’t where we get caught up.”

Despite the uncertainty of the contract negotiation process, Murray still believes that the committee could implement the program in a timely manner.

“We’ve created a fact sheet that has answers to staff questions that will be sent out to them, in addition to a mock schedule and a description of what an ARC advisor does,” said Murray.  “Upon feedback from them, the hope is that by second semester of next year, we might be looking at a transition. That’s the hope.”

Still, the ARC program has its critics.  Some teachers have expressed fears that the block would cut precious time out of their classes.  AP teachers, already subjected to tight testing schedules, could feel the time reduction the most.  They fear losing seven to nine minutes of class each day.  Spanish teacher Gretchen Houseman prefers to look at this time reduction differently.

“Instead of seeing it as time lost, I am thinking of it as time reallocated for another purpose,” said Houseman.  “For example, a student who is strong in English maybe doesn’t need those seven minutes of English instruction, but needs an extra thirty minutes of math instruction.”

Despite the positive outlook of committee members, there are some drawbacks to the program’s implementation.  In addition to the reduction in class time, teachers have also expressed concern with the number of students that they would instruct during this period.  From an outside perspective, helping fifteen students during a forty-minute period may seem manageable.  However, this would leave teachers with a mere two minutes and forty-five seconds per student.

While student numbers could be managed through the use of the computer program, the software implementation would impact the tight school budget.  Declining school choice figures have hit Hudson hard, and finding an extra $1,500 to $3,000 may be easier said than done.

Even if there were ample funds in the budget, Hudson’s history with the failed clustering program could hamper implementation.  Some long standing Hudson High staff members remember its failure and are cautious of implementing another advisory program.

Still, there is a clear and pressing decline in school culture.  Using an advisory program may be a resolution to this decline, although it must be implemented cautiously.  The precedent of clustering shows that changing the school schedule never has been and never will be a simple and controversy-free process.  

The school can take steps to reduce these hurdles.  Beginning with a semester-long pilot program would allow for students and staff to get a sense for the program without risking the potential drawbacks of long term implementation.  If there are flaws, staff could redesign the program based on what they learned during the pilot period.

Advisory programs are a fixture of many American high schools.  It is time for Hudson High School to step up by providing a program that meets the needs of both students and staff.