When it was first implemented in 2012, the 3×5 common schedule for Eugene District high schools was met with widespread controversy and strong opposition from both parents and administrators alike.
Almost four years later, 4J initiated a new effort to reexamine the 3×5 schedule, led by District Superintendent Gustavo Balderas. The process began in early 2016 and originally involved a proposal to replace the current model with an alternative school day agenda in as early as the 2017-2018 academic year. Schedule options included a two-semester, six-period format (2×6) and a “Quarter-Flex” system in which the school year is divided into four quarters with four 90-minute “block” periods or eight 45-minute “skinny” periods.
The evaluation of the 3×5, which drew input from multiple staff committees representing all district high schools, had the possibility of resulting in a variety of outcomes: The current schedule would either be left in place, modified to better accommodate school needs, or be replaced entirely by one of the proposed schedule alternatives.
Originally, a new recommendation was to be generated based on committee discussions and sent to all licensed staff members in 4J high schools for a vote. If two-thirds of voters were to support a schedule change, the recommendation would be presented to Superintendent Balderas. If employees were to vote in favor of the current schedule, the 3×5 would remain the shared schedule model.
They’ve spent almost a year now discussing the 3×5 and alternatives to the 3×5 and not a whole lot has come out of it.
This year’s process showed a departure from methods used four years ago, where much of the decision-making occurred at an administrative level. Several students and teachers had previously expressed frustration that these choices were agreed upon without sufficient input from community members, and some found that the district-initiated measures to include teacher perspectives contributed to fostering greater trust between administration and 4J students and staff.
“This has been a comprehensive process which involved a committee of staff from each high school and an outside consultant,” Superintendent Balderas said. “There is no perfect schedule, with positives and negatives to each. If there were [a perfect schedule], all high schools within our size range would be following it. Our goal is to meet the needs of our students through whatever schedule is recommended.”
Despite 4J taking steps toward a more inclusive process, other teachers have observed that the talks around a new schedule have yielded little results.
“They’ve spent almost a year now discussing the 3×5 and alternatives to the 3×5 and not a whole lot has come out of it,” Tracey Windom, an AP Calculus teacher at South, said. “Sheldon wants to be on a four-period day. South would love to go back to a seven-period day. North Eugene, I think, would like some type of a ‘block’ schedule.”
But the 3×5’s continued lack of popularity among the 4J community was not enough for it to be eliminated. No alternative schedule format was able to garner enough support at the subcommittee level for a districtwide recommendation to be made.
“That leaves us at a point where we, the sub-committee, are letting the greater committee know that we do not recommend pushing the quarter-flex forward,” South Eugene Principal Andy Dey, who serves on the current evaluation committee, said. “And yes, that would, in essence, leave us with a decision point.”
However, staff opinion was not the only factor contributing to the scheduling decisions made this year. The earliest stages of the schedule evaluation discussion began with an analysis of hundreds of the most commonly utilized schedules in high schools across the country. The vetting process involved a strong emphasis on the affordability of the schedules within the parameters of the current district budget, which has dwindled in recent years.
In fact, much of the initial push behind switching to a common schedule in 2012 had its roots in budgetary considerations.
“There were just problems that we had. As our budgetary [situation] and desire for more sophistication as a district became a reality, we couldn’t just stay the way that we were,” Dey said.
Dey even suggested that the 3×5 had the potential to be a highly successful schedule model at every 4J high school, but that the financial reality of the Eugene School District rendered it less effective in meeting each school’s needs throughout the initial implementation.
“With a different funding reality, living with the 3×5 schedule would be very different,” he said. “If we had more funds, there would be more opportunities available with the 3×5 than there are with fewer funds for faculty.”
Still, some members of the 4J community have expressed disappointment with a process that seemed to fizzle out where it started in 2012.
“They’re at the same point they were at four years ago when they were trying to make the [original] scheduling decision,” Windom said.
But Dey argues that the core purpose of the current process was to build a healthier dynamic between teachers and the administration, and he believes that the conversations that occurred this year were successful in healing some of the rifts created with the introduction of the 3×5.
“I think it’s frustrating for many because we haven’t made progress, if progress means getting a new schedule,” Dey said. “That said, we could have a new schedule and [have] the process be rigged, and people would again be very, very unhappy. Anything meaningful is painful to some extent, and this certainly will be meaningful because it has been painful.”