BKW reorg: Tedeschi named president, new super goes over block schedule

The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Bonnie Kane, pictured here fixing a student’s cap at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo graduation ceremony in June, gave her first presentation as the district’s superintendent at the BKW’s reorganizational meeting on July 1. Kane was formerly the secondary-school principal, and an English teacher before that. 

HILLTOWNS — Coming off a hectic, months-long budget cycle, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Board of Education began settling into a new normal at its July 1 re-organizational meeting, where — in addition to routine business — board member Matthew Tedeschi was elected president, and the board heard from the new district superintendent, Bonnie Kane, about block scheduling.

“This is part of the vision that Dr. Mundell and the administrative team have had for a few years now,” Kane said, referring to Timothy Mundell, who retired at the end of the 2023-24 school year after a decade as BKW’s superintendent, “and the reason for that is seeing different changes that are coming down from state ed, noticing what our students’ strengths are, what their interests are, and trying to develop a schedule that really meets all of their needs based on that.”

At its core, block scheduling is a format based on a smaller number of longer classes that, according to advocates, gives students more time to delve into subject material, and concurrently relaxes the atmosphere in a school and improves teacher morale. Critics, on the other hand, say that class periods can be too long to be used effectively. 

At BKW, there would be four, roughly 80-minute blocks, plus a 30-minute lunch period and a 10-minute homeroom stopover in the middle of the day, in Kane’s example schedule. Students’ schedules would alternate each day, with days A and C largely sharing a schedule, and days B and D sharing, with some modifications for certain classes, like a lab or physical education, that occur only every four days. 

Kane said that the district chose to adopt block scheduling to provide “more content-specific instruction while also allowing for greater efficiency in class preparation, decrease in class preparation for students, which often does include less homework, which I’m sure most students will be very happy about.”

Longer class times, she said, allow teachers to “build relationships and personalize learning for our students.”

To that effect, Kane said that blocks should not be 80 minutes of “pure lecture,” since that doesn’t work even in the 40-minute periods of a traditional schedule, and that they should instead engage four domains: intellectual challenge, affiliation, choice, and movement. 

The example single-class schedule she gave to the board — one of “many, many options teachers were provided” — dedicates 15 minutes to organizers, 10 minutes to class notes, 10 minutes to guided practice, 15 minutes to a short activity or game, 25 minutes to application of knowledge, and the remainder to closing out the lesson. 

Teachers could also try new things with the increased time, Kane said, explaining that an English and social studies teacher, for example, could essentially team up for a lesson on the Civil War, drawing from both disciplines for a more holistic experience for students.

And, with fewer transitions, Kane said that there will be an increase in instructional time, totaling two extra weeks of classes by the end of the year. 

Another major benefit, she said, is that block scheduling should increase general operational efficiency for the district, which is currently under a contingency budget and is staring down potential state aid cuts in the near future, by allowing for more collaboration with other districts that also expect to be affected by aid reductions.

“Part of the decision to move to block was a group of districts getting together and saying, ‘We know that in the next few years, at least, we’re going to need to do with less, so how do we do more with less?’”

Kane said those districts — which include Burnt Hills, Schodack, and Amsterdam — “worked a lot of last fall and all into the spring to align our schedules so students can take classes from [other districts] if they want to, via distance learning.”

As a result, “In times like we have now, with our contingency budget, we’re still able to offer students many of the classes they would really like to take, and some new classes as well.” 

To accommodate the schedule, school will start at 7:45 a.m. and finish at 2:17 p.m. — meaning the whole day is moved up about 20 minutes — which, Kane said, will allow trades students to take two full blocks before moving off site for the rest of the day, and means that sports and other after-school activities will start and end earlier. 

Board member Kim Lovell, who is a teacher in the Greenville school district, said that, while the concept of block scheduling looks “good on paper,” there would be inevitable challenges to overcome, citing the new bus schedule as an example.

“I think it’s going to be a little bit of a curve, waiting for the feedback,” Lovell said. “I would definitely give it a bit because change is hard and I think the bus time is going to be a challenge, so everybody’s just going to kind of have to embrace that for the first month while we work through some of it.”

“Definitely bear with us,” Kane said. “This is something we can do and we want to give it a shot for the benefit of our students. It might be a little frustrating at first but I think we’ll make the best of it, for sure.” 

More Hilltowns News

  • Pop culture and family phrases took center stage at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo graduation this year, as speakers quoted family, the comedian Kevin Hart, and the song “Respect” in their parting messages to the graduates. 

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo salutatorian Katie Joslin is headed to the State University of New York at Binghamton where they will study psychology, hoping to one day go into private practice and help give adolescents a strong foundation during their formative years. 

  • In a 3-to-2 vote, the Westerlo Town Board got rid of the town’s planning board — which Supervisor Matt Kryzak has described as “rogue” — despite opposition from residents and the Albany County Planning Board.

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