Thomas Jefferson High School adding personalized learning period, cutting class rank
The school day will look different for students at Thomas Jefferson High in 2019-20 — and attending classes at the new $95 million school is only one of the many changes coming.
Starting next school year, the high school will shift from nine to eight periods a day. Midday, there will be a 90-minute personalized learning time period, broken into three 30-minute segments including lunch. During the remaining 60 minutes, students’ options will be wide ranging and can include something as relaxing as a yoga class or something as demanding as a SAT prep class.
Every day, students can choose what they want to do.
“It’s breaking the mold of how probably everyone that’s going to read this article went to school,” Principal Pete Murphy said.
The changes are reinventing traditional education to focus on how students learn instead of simply teaching them the materials, administrators say. They want to make sure kids are learning and growing and provide them with education at their own pace. That shift is already taking place in the classroom, Superintendent Michael Ghilani said.
“In order to do that, you just can’t throw kids into classes, maintain the same model of education that we’ve always had and expect teachers to differentiate for a wide disparity of abilities,” he said. “I also believe you can’t accomplish that with stagnant blocks of time that we all try to fit learning into.”
If a student is falling behind in a class or doesn’t understand a concept, they can use the personalized learning time to meet with a teacher. Teachers can schedule to meet with the students, too — they actually have the first dibs on a student’s time.
“It’s super innovative,” Murphy said. “Not every kid retains information at the same rate.”
The FlexTime Manager software the district will use to implement the change allows students and teachers alike to schedule themselves for personalized learning time every day.
Ghilani and assistant superintendent of secondary education Scott Milburn worked together in the Montour School District prior to being hired in West Jefferson Hills in early 2017 and were part of the implementation of a similar program there. It’s now in its third year, they said.
In 2018, they introduced the idea to parents and students in West Jefferson Hills. There were concerns. Some feared they weren’t going to be able to take as many AP courses in high school with the shift to less periods.
During the last year, some changes were made to allow the program to fit better at TJ.
Students will be able to take a world language starting in eighth grade at Pleasant Hills Middle School starting in 2019-20. They’re also working to offer higher math courses at the middle school and even considering biology as a middle school course.
This will allow students to get ahead before high school and free up some time in their high school schedule, administrators said.
After hearing a concern from a parent on Jan. 22 — the night board members approved the changes — administrators acknowledged they need to be mindful of scheduling time for students with special needs and how these changes will impact them.
Board members on Jan. 22 also approved the addition of several new high school courses including Tech Lab, AP psychology, Law 2, Show Choir and Print Journalism.
Class rank will be eliminated with the graduating class of 2021.
It’s a move a number of high schools have made over the last several years, Ghilani said, because it’s not always to the benefit of the student to include class rank on transcripts.
At TJ, if a student has a 3.8 grade point average out of a 4.0, he or she might not even rank in the top 25 percent of their class, Ghilani said.
District leaders say they plan to continue meeting with students and parents to discuss the changes.
A curriculum night will be held in the Thomas Jefferson High School auditorium on Feb. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. The night will include information about scheduling and the proposed changes.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.