Saturday, October 25, 2014

McIntosh only school to stick with six periods


By Josh Akeman

The Board of Education heard multiple public comments and held a lengthy discussion at Monday's meeting regarding a potential district wide change from a six to a seven period school day. The discussion seemed eventually to break down to objections from McIntosh parents and staff, whereas the other four schools in the district appear to be on board. While it was Superintendent Dr. Jody Barrow's hope to achieve consistency across the district to facilitate smoother operations, the board ultimately voted 3-2 to allow the four schools interested in the 7-day period to proceed with it while allowing McIntosh to maintain its 6 period day.
Sandy Creek has piloted a seven period day for the past two years and its principal, Darrell Evans, and staff have been widely supportive of the shift, saying it opened up students schedules to allow for more opportunities, particularly in some of the electives that had been struggling to maintain the numbers necessary to continue.
Evans, in a presentation at the previous board meeting, explained that the extra period had revived numbers in a range of fine arts and other programs like JROTC, while showing no noticeable impact on student achievement in terms of test scores and grades. The additional period, and a potential negative effect on student performance from an expanded course load, was one of the objections offered up by a number of people. Evans said that while two years is not long enough to establish a trend, Sandy Creek hadn't seen any dip in academic achievement following the switch.
Roy Rabold, now at Whitewater High School, said in his former time as Sandy Creek principal he had wanted the school to shift to a seven day period, emphasizing that the idea "is nothing new." He pointed to one of the stronger supports for the program, which is that state requirements for students to graduate have expanded, straining the viability of a six period day. While students used to only need 21 credits to graduate, they now need 23. A six period day only offers the opportunity to attain 24 credits, while a seven period day would make 28 credits available thus, ideally, allowing students to meet graduation requirements without having to sacrifice the opportunity to take electives and other classes they would like to.
Sandy Creek's JROTC instructor said his program was going to be shut down prior to the shift to a seven period day, after which enrollment doubled, saving the program. He said his program had contributed 2,000 community service hours and 9,000 canned food items of the last year and a half.
"The seven period day not only saved my unit but it's forging a lot of good citizens," he concluded.
Starr's Mill's Fine Arts Department Chair also pushed for the seven period day, saying he'd seen "lots of students that were so talented with so much potential that had to drop the programs because they didn't have room in their schedule because of all of their required classes they had to take."
Several teachers and administrators at this meeting and prior also brought up that the seven period day allows for a teacher "community learning period," in which teachers could collaborate with each other. Several said this was a very important help for teachers that sometimes feel "isolated."
On the other side of the issue, several spoke for McIntosh and the desire to maintain its six period day with an optional zero-period, which students can avail themselves of to take an extra class.
The Chair of McIntosh' school council said the council had "discussed it and came to a consensus that the teachers and staff and even the parents we talked with really felt strongly that the 7 day period was not in the best interest of McIntosh."
Other parents echoed similar sentiments, asking that the board essentially not to fix what isn't broken at McIntosh. A few parents expressed their concern that adding a seventh period would put particular pressure on high achieving students to add another Advanced Placement course to their schedule, potentially placing too much strain on them.
"Can you imagine working an 8 hour day, coming home, and working another 6 to 7 hours each night because of homework? It's like an adult working one 8 hour day then having to come home and work a whole other job," one mother asked.
When it came time for the board to deliberate the discussion was muddied quickly as to what the course forward should look like. Barrow reiterated his preference that the seven period day be instituted because he felt strongly a consistent schedule around the district was important.
"Our intent is not to make all of our schools cookie cutter models, but we do need some consistency in the district," Barrow said.
Barrow pointed out that the recent competitive analysis offered up as part of the Fayette Visioning effort had included responses from students as to what changes they would most like to see in terms of educational opportunity. The students prioritized hands on learning experiences, internships, learning outside the classroom, and the chance to take additional Advanced Placement courses. Barrow said those sorts of opportunities would be best served by expanded the school day to seven periods.
"Clearly the traditional six period day, I think, is at maximum capacity. We're getting as much as we can out of the six period day," he said.
Barrow also addressed a few concerns, including added workload for teachers who may have to teach six classes a day rather than five. Barrow said it would be likely that switching to a seven period day would mean 16 to 18 teachers would have to teach a sixth class for additional compensation. Barrow said that some Sandy Creek teachers had had to do so without added pay during the pilot program and weren't happy with the arrangement, but that going forward the plan would be to pay those teachers commensurate with the added daily instruction time.
Barrow also pointed out that he had looked over the data at McIntosh and found that less than 10-percent of the student population was taking advantage of the optional zero-period this year.
Dr. Barry Marchman weighed in, saying he agreed with most of Barrow's reasoning for supporting the seven period day but he could not see a reason to make McIntosh change schedules without better reason.
"The program at Sandy Creek, as we've heard, was a success. Let's keep it.
What I still don't understand is what problem are we trying to solve at a very high performing school by doing this? I don't see how this is solving any problem."
Marchman also pointed out that the move toward seven periods was in part about the added community learning periods. The newly instituted state method of evaluating schools has placed an added emphasis on teacher collaboration and preparation, but Marchman along with Dr. Mary Kay Bacallao argued a schedule change shouldn't be made to satisfy changing state evaluation metrics.
"It feels like what we're doing is satisfy the metrics and these metrics will certainly be replaced in 3 to 5 years by our wise legislators," Marchman said half-jokingly.
Bacallao made similar comments, saying the district shouldn't "chase the carrot" of better evaluations. She said she had been a substitute teacher at four of the five district schools and "it seems like it's working the way it is right now."
Leonard Presberg argued for consistency of opportunity for students around the district while also saying that the school board should potentially allow their newly hired superintendent some latitude in making decisions he felt were important in moving the district in a positive direction.
"From my perspective i don't think an option zero period gives all of our students a choice. I think it gives a percentage of our students a choice who can deal with the transportation needs and sort of the extra hassle of having it not be during the school day. I think we need to have all options open to all of our students regardless of what school they go to," Presberg said.
Barrow's original recommendation to move all schools to a seven period day was voted down. Ultimately, after much back and forth, the board voted 3-2 to allow the four schools presumed to be interested in the seven period day to move forward with it starting next year while allowing McIntosh to stick to a six period day.


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