Scheduling change upsets some parents

Published February 2, 2007

About a dozen parents showed up for a meeting this week with Durant High School and district officials, some expressing frustration that parents did not have more of a say in the decision to abandon block scheduling.

"So far school choice is a joke, and now you just eliminated another choice," parent Shari Marsh told school and district officials. "This was forced down our throats. We didn't get to voice our opinions."

School and district officials told the parents at the meeting, held to discuss the scheduling change, that they had absorbed teacher and staff input. They said they had looked at many scheduling options before settling on the seven-period school day.

They also stressed that the school will be flexible enough to allow some students, especially seniors with a remaining language requirement, to block off certain classes while also taking other, shorter and yearlong classes.

Under block scheduling, students take four 90-minute classes a day and can finish a full course in one semester. With seven-period scheduling, classes are 50 minutes and generally last the whole year.

District officials told parents that they are working with teachers who are not familiar with seven-period days on how to present their lesson plans differently.

They've also been meeting with students about scheduling questions, and they encouraged parents to make sure their children visit guidance counselors.

Parent Ardie Paetz said she and her husband had two children graduate from a block scheduling school and two graduate from a seven-period school. The two at the block school fared much better, won scholarships and went to college. The couple have two more children who have yet to graduate, including a freshman at Durant.

They worry that a seven-period day will overwhelm their children with more homework.

"It's not just looking at the FCAT and tests as the most important thing, but how students handle the classes," she said.

Michael Grego, the school district's assistant superintendent for curriculum, said the issue should not boil down to a debate pitting block scheduling against "traditional" scheduling.

Instead, he thinks schools will move to a hybrid form to combine the best of both.

For instance, block scheduling math in one semester does not work well for some students because almost an entire year passes before they take the subject again, officials said.

While block scheduling may work well for languages or science labs, the seven-period day opens up more possibilities for electives and advanced-placement courses, officials said.

The scheduling change stems from the district's attempt to reduce the number of new or unqualified teachers it needs to hire to meet the state's class-size limits.

By changing from block scheduling to the seven-class day, administrators want school instructors to spend 300 minutes teaching daily, which is in their contracts but not enforced.

Officials have said they can save $28-million in new employee salaries and benefits by having existing instructors teach an additional 30 to 50 minutes each day.

Also, officials say the pool of qualified, certified teachers does not exist to meet the needs for additional personnel once the state's class-size requirements fully kick in.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at 661-2441 or amrhein@sptimes.com.