Waterloo High School juniors and seniors who meet certain criteria will have the option to leave school earlier in the day under a new incentive program presented by Principal Shawn Bartelt.

Beginning with the second term of the 2021-2022 academic year, upperclassman will be allowed to take advantage of open campus during Flex period, which will be held during the final 30 minutes of each school day and replace the Webs period that was held immediately before lunch.

The Waterloo School Board approved the plan 4-2 with President Nancy Thompson and Vice President Kate Lewandowski voting no; board member Matt Schneider was not present.

According to Bartelt, the students eligible for open campus during Flex time would have to be upperclassmen with a minimum 3.0 GPA earned during the previous term who have no unexcused absences and no documented suspensions.

“And it can be revoked at any time if something is not going right,” the principal said. “If a student did qualify for it, I would ultimately make the decision and revoke it if needed.”

One of the reasons for offering this incentive is to decrease the number of students in classrooms during Flex time “because we really want to focus on meeting the needs of the students who really need (teacher’s) help,” he said. “So instead of having 20 students in the classroom, we maybe have 12 so those teachers can really work with those students at that time.”

Additionally, during the most recent academic year the high school had an open campus model due to COVID-19 where students were able to choose which of their classes they wanted to attend in person and what ones they wished to attend remotely on any given day. During the second semester Bartelt revoked the privilege from some students based on their grades.

“That is something students really worked for and I saw on the (annual) survey for seniors that they really appreciated some of that open campus when they got that privilege,” he said.

The principal also acknowledged that in his shift to the high school, one of his goals was to explore the possibility of having open campus during a traditional school year. He and other high school teachers had met last month to determine ways to create some type of open campus availability.

The principal said not every student eligible for open campus would choose to leave since various clubs would still use Flex time to hold meetings; there would also be opportunities for open gym and take part in other activities such as tutoring their peers. Furthermore, the qualified students could still use this time to meet with teachers much like the students who cannot leave campus.

Board member Jim Setz pointed out moving Flex time to the end of the day would also be beneficial for when athletic teams need to be dismissed early due to the location of their contest. Those students, and any staff members who serve as coaches, would not lose classroom time in those instances.

Thompson was glad the high school was creating an open campus option, but felt it was giving the impression that Flex time wasn’t important.

“Why is the incentive less education,” the board president asked. “We’re saying that 31 minutes of every day is not important anymore for those juniors and seniors who meet all the criteria. That troubles me.”

Board Treasurer Karen Stangler didn’t believe the students would feel the time to get additional help from teachers was important, but shows that everyone learns at different rates – some students may need a bit of extra help while others may not.

Lewandowski said she liked that Bartelt was bringing new ideas before the board but would prefer the school to look at incentivizing staying on campus during Flex time. She also wanted to know if this would be an incentive for those students who need the extra motivation to improve their grades.

Bartelt would be willing to look at the outcome of having the open campus incentive program following the second term, which would then determine if the program should continue for the remainder of the school year or if it needs to be completely revoked for all students no matter the eligibility status.

“We’ll need to be flexible and adjust,” he said. “If I thought it didn’t go over very well I’m willing to own that and say, ‘Hey, let’s think of something different,’ and put a pause to it.”

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