Staff writer

Teachers, parents and students packed board chambers this week in hopes of persuading Liberty Union High School District trustees to preserve the course schedule that two of the district's high schools follow instead of having them adopt the format of the third.

Nearly all who spoke during Wednesday's hourlong public hearing in Brentwood favored keeping Liberty and Heritage high schools on a so-called four-by-four block schedule rather than switching to Freedom High's A/B setup, as Superintendent Dan Smith has recommended. The district will hold a second public hearing Nov. 12, and trustees are scheduled to decide the matter at their Dec. 10 meeting.

Next week, administrators also plan to post answers to questions that people have posed in e-mails and phone calls on the district's Web site.

On a four-by-four schedule, students take up to four, approximately 90-minute classes every day, which enables them to squeeze a year's worth of learning into a single term.

The more traditional A/B configuration involves taking two sets of four classes on alternate days over the entire school year.

But critics like Heritage High School teacher Hillary Pedrotti say students do better on the 4x4 schedule because they only have to focus on four classes at a time instead of trying to juggle as many as eight.


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She noted that her daughter, a Heritage senior, will have taken 11 Advanced Placement classes by the time she graduates, something Pedrotti says only is possible on a four-by-four because of the intense concentration the college-level AP courses demand.

That's a plus, agreed parent Jill Reynolds, noting that Heritage High's schedule is also easier on her son, whose distractibility would make it tough for him to keep track of more than a handful of classes at once.

And longer class periods make it easier to digest the information, said Evan Dean, a junior at Liberty High School.

Other teens reasoned that those given to procrastination will be sorely tempted on an A/B schedule because it doesn't force them to complete homework the same day it is assigned.

One of the few proponents of the A/B schedule was Heritage math teacher Kevin Allen, who argued that young people need to study the subject consistently to remember what they have learned. On a four-by-four schedule, a teen might take one math class in the fall and not have the chance to take the next course in the sequence until the following year, he said.

"Math is a language and if you don't use it, you lose it," Allen said.

The long hiatus can affect test scores as well: Students taking the state exams that are given in the spring might not remember math concepts they studied the previous fall, he said. Conversely, those who sign up for a spring-term math class have not covered much ground by the time the test rolls around, Allen said.

Those on both sides of the issue pointed to test scores to support their case, and implored the school board to vote only after gathering all the facts.

Those collected so far show that it would save an estimated $195,000 by having all three high schools on an A/B schedule.

One reason is that Liberty Union wouldn't have to hire quite as many teachers.

Students typically sign up for more classes on a four-by-four schedule, Smith explained, perhaps because if they opted for only three courses per term instead of the maximum four, they realize they would be giving a bigger chunk of their school day over to free time than if they elect to take seven classes instead of eight on the A/B schedule.

And when students take more classes, a school needs more teachers, which is why Heritage and Liberty each need the equivalent of an additional full-time teacher at a combined cost of approximately $140,000, Smith said.

Schools also receive more money from the state for reducing class sizes if they teach the same class of students all year long — as they would on an A/B schedule — than if they condense the course into a single term and offer it twice, he said.

Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141 or rcoetsee@bayareanewsgroup.com