BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ -- Township school leaders plan to decide by mid-winter whether to proceed with an addition to Ridge High School that would allow the school to switch the way it operates its day.

The addition on the end of the 700 wing would include ground-floor space to cook and serve food, with four classrooms and a small-group room on a floor above.

Superintendent Nick Markarian updated the Board of Education on Monday, July 22 on the project and the challenges that would have to be met in the school’s master schedule.

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He said the current budget estimate, including construction and soft costs (architect, engineer, contingency, permits), is $6.8 million. It is projected to be paid for by $5.15 million in money put aside for capital projects and by borrowing on five-year notes for $1.65 million, he said.

Under those figures, it would mean an increase in the annual school budget of $182,000 to $282,000 per year, he said.

On June 17 the Board of Education authorized up to $395,825 to Spiezle Architectural Group to draft plans and design bid documents for the addition, which could be used beginning in the fall of 2021.

On Monday the board approved up to $84,200 from its capital account to T and M Associates in Mount Laurel for civil engineering work (site plans, drawings, construction specifications) for the project.

The district is looking for ways to create room to be able to change the school-day schedule to one with fewer, but longer, class periods per day. To do so, all 1,800 students and about 250 staffers would have to eat lunch in the same class period, which isn’t physically possible in the present facility, where lunch is now spread over five 42-minute periods from about 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Elliot Merenbloom, an expert in school scheduling, said in December that Ridge High lacks the classroom and cafeteria space to allow a “block” schedule to be implemented. Classes would be rotated so students wouldn’t take every subject every day.

Two options are being investigated. The preferred one seems to be a “rotating drop” schedule, in which students would take six subject classes each day for 55-60 minutes, with a study hall and lunch in the other two periods. Each class would meet three of four days.

In another possible model, students would attend four classes of 84 minutes each per day and take each subject every other day. In this “Day One, Day Two” schedule with an eight-period day, a student would have four classes on one day and a different four classes on the alternate day.

Ridge High currently runs on nine 42-minute periods. Students take each of their subjects each day.

The expansion would give the school more space to make food, but no extra seating is planned. In visits to other high schools with block schedules, the district found they used various options: in vacant classrooms, on gym bleachers or in hallways, for instance.

Markarian and other administrators spent time July 22 describing the complexities of adapting to a block schedule. He said administrators would work through November on how a rotating drop schedule would work, while keeping the A/B plan as an alternate.

High School Principal Drew Krause said administrators he visited in schools with a block schedule said they would never go back to a traditional nine-period, shorter-class day. Krause also said he noticed a calmness in their buildings, which he speculated might be the result of less passing time for classes.

Markarian said the school could gain seven instructional rooms through the addition, relocating a supervisors’ room and reassigning two lecture halls for instruction.

Thomas Misiak, supervisor of science, described the constraints of space and time for extended science lab periods.  Michael Fackelman, supervisor of fine and practical arts, talked about the problems finding time for individual music lessons in a block schedule.

Converting to a block schedule without adding more classroom space might mean fewer sections of a course, more students in a class and/or fewer elective offerings, said the superintendent. Lunch service “would be a struggle,” he said.

Parents said they were concerned teens’ attention spans might not adapt well to classes up to 84 minutes long. There were also questions whether there would be enough restrooms for all students to use at one lunch period, providing time for students to move and take a break during long classes, and how schedules would be constructed for students who attend work study and vo-tech programs.

Kristin Fox, assistant superintendent for curriculum said there would be extensive staff training to show teachers how to adapt their teach styles to present two or three lessons within a class period, and to encourage lessons that give students a chance to discover answers through inquiry-based work.

Board members encouraged the public to view the administrators’ presentation online at the school website. It will be posted on the Board of Education area under “Board Presentations.”