HAYWARD — High school students were out in force at Wednesday's crowded school board meeting, telling trustees that a change to their class schedule system would quash chances of admittance to top-notch universities and ruin the few standout programs they have.
The students — mostly from Mt. Eden High — dominated the public comment session, with most reiterating a common sentiment: The block system allows students to ingest more knowledge than a traditional six-period schedule in the same four years.
"I have high hopes for the future of my education, and a period schedule would severely hurt," said Nathan Childress, a Mt. Eden junior who is enrolled in a number of Advanced Placement classes.
Those classes require the extra time per day offered by the block system, in which the school year is split into two semesters, Childress said. Students take four 90-minute classes per day each semester, enrolling in different courses for the first and second halves of the year.
A traditional six-period schedule remains the same throughout the school year, with each class lasting an hour.
Shorter classes would also hamper arts programs at the schools, said Mateo Mora, who is enrolled in dance and choir classes at Mt. Eden.
"For dance, we come in and we need to change, stretch and warm up before we can get started with technique," he said. "You can't teach technique in the allotted time (of six-period classes)."
No decision was made Wednesday, and there will be a series of public meetings before the matter goes to a vote. A follow-up presentation to the board is scheduled for Dec. 10 — when the panel will have three new members — and a vote will likely happen in January.
A district report says a scheduling change could save the district $1 million in tight economic times. Overall, the district is looking to cut costs by at least $12 million this year, said Barry Schimmel, the district's assistant superintendent for business.
"There's no way we can make those kinds of cuts without affecting students," said outgoing board member Jeff Cook. "We cannot make a decision to keep (the block schedule) until we know what would have to go instead."
Hybrids of the two systems also are being considered, Assistant Superintendent Donna Becnel said at Wednesday's meeting, who noted that all the systems have advantages and disadvantages.
Boardmember-elect Sheila Sims agreed, but seemed to put more of the onus on students to make the class schedule work for them.
"There is a group of students who are taking full advantage of the block schedules, and another group that is not," she said.
Sims said cutting the dropout rate and curbing truancy are two of her main concerns, and she would like to see figures that compare the schedules in those terms.
Kathy Crummey, president of the Hayward Education Association teachers union, said teachers overwhelmingly support the block system.
"Absolutely," she said. "We think it offers students far greater opportunities. We are very committed to keeping the four-by-four block."