BERNARDS TOWSNHIP, NJ -- Township school leaders are getting serious about finding out what facilities would need to be added to be able to change the school day schedule at Ridge High School.
Superintendent Nick Markarian said Monday that the school’s architect has been invited to a Board of Education facilities committee meeting on April 19 to discuss enlarging the cafeteria and kitchen, and perhaps adding classrooms.
Those would be necessary if the high school were to convert from a school day of nine periods to some form of block schedule of fewer, but longer, class periods per day. Classes would be rotated so students wouldn’t take every subject every day.
Ridge High School Principal Drew Krause reported Monday that two teams of administrators, students and staff visited four area high schools in late January and early February to see how two different types of block schedules operated.
They saw a school day in action. In one model, students attend four classes of 80 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.
In the other model, called a “rotating drop” schedule, 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.
The Ridge teams visited Hunterdon Central and Montgomery for the Day 1-2 model, and Chatham and West Windsor-Plainsboro North for the rotating drop model.
In both models, all students eat lunch at the same time, opposed to Ridge, where lunch for 1,800-plus students and about 250 staffers is spread over five 42-minute periods because the cafeteria has a seating capacity of 437.
Krause said the overwhelming majority of the members of the teams preferred the rotating drop model. All of the seven students and 80 percent of 14 teachers said it would be “the best fit” for Ridge.
At the end of Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Nick Markarian said the administration would assess whether the school has enough general-use classrooms to contemplate a block schedule without a referendum.
When he asked if the board wanted to proceed investigating what it would take to change to a block schedule, board members’ hands immediately shot up in agreement.
Anticipating that, the superintendent said he had invited the school architect, Anthony Catana of Spiezle Architectural Group, to attend the April 17 committee meeting.
Elliot Merenbloom, a former educator in Maryland and an expert in school scheduling, said in December that Ridge High lacks the classroom and cafeteria space to allow either type of block schedule to be implemented now.
He said the school would need to add five to 10 classrooms to be able to design some sort of block schedule.
In December 2017 the board put the possible cost of a larger cafeteria and kitchen at $3.9 million to $4.6 million. A secondary kitchen would address the food production problem, but a new café would take 21 to 27 months to plan and build.
Building more classrooms would presumably require more money in a referendum.
One positive repercussion of rotating schedules would be to concentrate students’ daily homework and reduce the possibility of multiple tests on the same day.
A survey of students in the spring of 2017 showed the pursuit of high grades was cited as the most intense contributor to stress. About one-third of students said they spend four hours per day on homework, and more than 58 percent said they studied for three hours or more.
In December 2017, Superintendent Markarian called it “staggering” that 81 percent of students said it was common for them to stay home when they felt unprepared for a test or a major assignment.