For over 40 years, Wausau West High School has leveraged a flexible schedule model that offers high schoolers greater opportunity throughout the school year. Residents of the small town have become quite accustomed to the ritual and when an April Fools video declaring the end of the flexible scheduling was accidentally released prior to April 1, residents were up in arms.
This system isn’t a mere convenience for high school students. The 40-year old flex mod schedule at Wausau West High School was ahead of its time when it was initially implemented and now it serves as a benchmark for individualized education.
Most of the attention the school’s flexible scheduling system has received during the past few years is no joke, however. Educators from across the country have traveled here to scrutinize how the system works in an era of individualized education. Curious educators from places such as Minneapolis, South Dakota and South Carolina are visiting not only West, which has used a flex mod system since the school opened in the early 1970s, but also Merrill High School, which just finished its fourth school year using a similar system.
Many of those visitors had a particular eye with how the flex mod system meshes with a nationwide system designed to help struggling students called Response to Intervention.
Most schools use a scheduling system in which one period equals one class, with most students able to take seven classes a day. The flex mod system at West divides the day into 21 20-minute mods, and classes run from 40 to 80 minutes long.
RTI is a system of escalating actions that schools must take to help students who are lagging academically or struggling behaviorally before schools place the students in special education programs, and it has been part of special education law since 2006. As schools work to put RTI in place, many are struggling to find time for teachers to give the students extra attention for their specific problems. That’s where flex mod comes in.
“Our system, because of the flexible nature of it, it’s something that’s seen as having opportunities for extra instruction, and incorporate a wide range of different types of intervention,” said West Principal Jeb Steckbauer. “For example, for those who are having difficulties in math, we can add a couple of mods of math to those students’ schedules.”