Opinion: What happened to BioScience and DTech was not the result of an administrative oversight

Like+a+detective+trying+to+solve+a+murder+on+cork+board+with+push+pins+and+pictures+of+the+suspects%2C+in+Gibbs%E2%80%99+office+hangs+this+magnetic+board+with+all+the+teachers+and+classes+at+Foothill+Tech%2C+some+scribbled+in+his+own+handwriting%2C+arranged+and+rearranged+to+create+the+master+schedule+each+school+year.+

Lila Ettedgui-Scott

Like a detective trying to solve a murder on cork board with push pins and pictures of the suspects, in Gibbs’ office hangs this magnetic board with all the teachers and classes at Foothill Tech, some scribbled in his own handwriting, arranged and rearranged to create the master schedule each school year.

Lila Ettedgui-Scott, Writer

Emotions are running high this fall at Foothill Technology High School (Foothill Tech) after the administration implemented a new schedule that cut two advisers’ coordinating periods for specialized career tracks. It may seem odd that students would be so impassioned over how many sections their teachers teach, but the adverse effect of the loss on Foothill Tech’s entrepreneurship and science pathways were highly publicized by the teacher advisers. 

Coordinating periods were not cut as the result of an administrative error. Several factors combined led to this new reality, a reality where there might not be a man to hang for what happened to Foothill Tech’s pathways. 

Principal Russell Gibbs is a very friendly and open person, yet he was guarded during this interview. I understand why. Students have been treating this highly quantitative issue like a social justice issue. Like Gibbs had some sort of bias against the Career Technical Education (CTE) programs like the BioScience and DTech pathways (science and entrepreneurship subsequently). 

I think he just doesn’t have a bias for them. Gibbs seems like he just wants to serve all the students equally and fairly. There’s not much information available about what exactly happened to the coordinating periods. After speaking with Gibbs and several affected teachers, here’s what I’ve found:

Two weeks into the 2022-2023 school year, the counselors finally ran out of different ways to try and sort everyone into classes. Classrooms were overflowing and something had to give. 

Generally, Foothill Tech teachers teach six periods a day, while it’s standard for teachers in Ventura Unified School District (VUSD) to teach five periods. For teachers, a six period day means six periods of instruction and a preparatory period without any students. It’s been like this since Foothill opened. 

Foothill Tech houses several CTE programs; BioScience and DTech being the two largest. In the past, teachers who serve as advisers for these CTE programs have had an extra preparatory period called a coordinating period so they could fulfill these highly demanding posts.  

To correct some of the more extreme overages, particularly in Freshman sections—Health classes were populated well into the forties—Gibbs opened up two new periods, one of Health and one of Biology. 

Kurt Miller, the DTech adviser, and Mika Anderson, the BioScience adviser, usually teach a period of Health and a period of Biology, respectively. Freshman Health and Biology classes were overpacked, so Gibbs opened new sections where he saw some sort of leeway: Miller and Anderson’s coordinating periods. 

Miller and Anderson’s FIRE students were reassigned, which gives them an extra 30 minutes four days a week, assuming they don’t have any other responsibilities during FIRE, such as helping students with homework. They were also compensated monetarily for the loss of their coordinating periods and the work that they would now have to do after school/at FIRE. But Miller and Anderson are human, as the concessions Gibbs could offer them just don’t seem like they’re going to be enough; money can’t always replace time. 

Morally, I did what I had to do. I couldn’t have Health classes with 49 kids.”

— Russell Gibbs

There are a couple reasons why there’s such a high demand for Health and Biology classes in the first place. Neither Anthony Unchangco or Heather Ferris, two names that used to be synonymous with Health class, teach as many sections of Health as they normally would. Unchangco teaches one and Ferris doesn’t teach any. 

Unchangco teaches five periods of Physical Education (PE) and Ferris has an extra period of Psychology: Sociology and Psychology — a college preparatory (CP) version of AP Psychology. Something similar happened when the school opened up a period of CP Physiology, which took up a period that Anderson would traditionally teach Biology during, but the class was quickly combined with a section of Honors Physiology.

Also, unique to this year were the several intervention periods that Gibbs had to open up: three in Math, one for English. “I have students who aren’t ready for Math One,” Gibbs recounts. 

The academic demographic that Foothill Tech serves is changing. CP variations of Psychology and Physiology, in addition to more intervention periods than usual, all point towards the shift. For the record, there’s no direct correlation between new intervention periods and the loss of coordinating periods, but they are an example of the way the academic culture at Foothill is changing. 

The fact that Foothill Tech is housing a new group of students with more diverse academic goals is not a bad thing. The master schedule comes from course requests. At the end of the 2021-2022 year, Foothill students filled out a google form with all the classes they intended to take. New sections of CP Psychology and Physiology in addition to a whole new order of PE classes—all courses that directly disrupt Health and Biology sections—appeared on the form and contributed to the loss of coordinating periods. 

Historically, there were four sections of the Core Athletics Program (CAP) and no regular PE classes third and fourth period; Foothill now offers six straight periods of PE. Less students in Independent Study PE (ISPE), fewer in Cross Country and only one period of CAP to serve student athletes are all factors in the new six-period PE schedule that ultimately disrupted what would have been two sections of Health that Unchangco taught last year. 

The size of the freshman class or some maldistribution of students among sections is not the problem. ”

There’s also a looming assumption that sometime last year, the office made a mistake: admitted too many freshmen to Foothill Tech. The freshman class is marginally larger than the last four Freshman classes at 277 students. But that’s pretty standard for Foothill. Our senior class was 252. The Class of ‘24 came in at 263 and the Class of ‘25 was 253. The Class of ‘26 is the largest class in the last four years by only 15 students. 

From the 2017-2018 school year to 2020-2021, enrollment at Foothill Tech decayed by about five percent. This year, at 999 students, enrollment is just on the lower side of normal for our school. The Class of ‘26 is by a small margin larger than the last four incoming freshman classes, but enrollment atrophied during the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning a larger freshman class is just part of pandemic recovery, even if it puts stress on our CTE programs. Regardless, the Class of ‘26 isn’t malignantly large or overenrolled. 

The problem is that there weren’t enough sections of Health and Biology for the Class of ‘26 because of the course requests that sophomores, juniors and seniors put in at the end of the school year matched up with increased demand for freshman sections, which have nothing to do with enrollment numbers. A significant number of freshmen coming into Foothill Tech traditionally have already completed Health and College and Career over the summer before freshman year. Less freshmen took advantage of that opportunity this year, which led to what Gibbs called, an unpredictable influx of freshmen into those classes. 

When the Foothill Dragon Press initially reported on the new master class schedule without BioScience and DTech coordinating periods, the news article falsely equated mass schedule changes (wide material impact) with the coming effect of the loss of coordinating periods (future impact on a specific sect of the student body). 

The mass schedule changes are linked directly to overcrowded classes. The schedule changes and loss of coordinating periods were both the effects of those overcrowded classes. The schedule changes were absolutely not the result of the loss of coordinating periods or vice versa. 

Course demands are something that comes from the student body, not Gibbs or the school district. Coming from a club that was cut back significantly at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — it’s hard to find an adviser for the Speech and Debate — it’s hard to not have someone to blame.

For this year at least, it doesn’t seem like the master schedule will change to return coordinating periods for BioScience and DTech, although Gibbs is hopeful that coordinating periods for BioScience and DTech could return next year. “It’s just supply and demand,” Gibbs explained. 

 

A previous version of this article stated that Anthony Unchangco does not teach any Health classes for the 2022-2023 school year. Unchangco does in fact teach one section of the course during first period. The error has been corrected.

What do you think?