With budget cuts and current economic conditions, the Baldwin County Board of Education continues to look for ways the school system can organize and improve student learning, which includes reviewing the structure of the school day.
During Monday’s work session, the school board heard a presentation from Baldwin High School Principal Dr. Jessica Swain and Assistant Principal Dr. Jeremy Dockery about the researched pros and cons of a four-by-four block schedule versus a seven-period day.
“In block scheduling, students are in class for 90 minutes per day for 90 days, which equals 8,100 instructional minutes per class. In a seven-period day, students are in class for 50 minutes per day for 180 days, which equals 9,000 instructional minutes per class,” Dockery said. “Block scheduling benefits teachers because they have more manageable schedules, fewer discipline problems, longer preparation periods, they are able to use a wide variety of teaching techniques in the classroom, can develop closer relationships with students, and are able to reduce administrative duties.”
Under the four-by-four block schedule, students take four classes in the fall and four classes in the spring, totaling 32 possible credits. Under a seven-period day, students take seven classes throughout the school year, totaling 28 possible credits. With Baldwin County schools requiring a minimum of 28 credits for graduation, students would not be able to fail a class and still graduate on time unless the school system lowered the number of credit requirements.
“Students don’t have any room for failure, so a seven-period day would impact the graduation rate and that could face students not graduating on time,” Dockery said. “About 60 percent of Georgia high schools are on a block schedule. It’s impossible to change the configuration next school year.”
A few of the concerns discussed about making a transition to a seven-period day included safety and security issues with increased volume of students in the cafeteria and more time in the halls between period transitions, increased purchase of textbooks, an extended school day by 10 minutes, and cuts to CTAE pathways, which would impact the Baldwin College and Career Academy (BCCA) charter.
“Dual enrollment and Georgia College Early College must operate on semesters. That would mean students who come to the high school now would have to stay on college campus and take all of their classes there. We’re currently giving them an opportunity to connect with their home school in the morning and take a first period class before transitioning back to the college experience,” Swain said. “Cutting CTAE teachers could put the BCCA charter at risk and result in the loss off federal Perkins funds. Any cuts would jeopardize the goals of the Career Academy. Cuts to CTAE or fine arts would lead to reduced pathway completion, which is now a performance indicator for accountability on the CCRPI (College and Career Ready Performance Index).”
Northside High School within the Houston County school system transitioned from a traditional six-period day to a seven-period day in 2009, a change Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Mark Scott considers an improvement for the Warner Robins school and its 1,800 students. He said the school’s scheduling model changed in order to add high school credits since the state department modified graduation requirements.
“A lot of counties have switched from block scheduling. In the late 1990s, I was the assistant principal at Baldwin High School, so I was there during the transition,” Scott said. “There are pros and cons for both models. Unfortunately, a lot of school system decisions are based off funds. You have to keep the students first; there has to be a balance for what’s best for the students with what you’re able to fund. All of the possibilities have to be looked at; look at different school systems using a similar schedule and determine which best suits the school system’s need. The school day should offer some type of opportunity for enrichment or remediation as well.”
Former Baldwin High School Principal Lyn Chandler, school board member-elect for District 3, said the school implemented block scheduling since it was the beginning days of Adequate Yearly Progress and scores were low.
“It was an experiment that we could afford at the time to try something different. In 1994, we had a graduation rate of 40 percent, so we were willing to try a number of different options, and block scheduling was chosen,” Chandler said during the work session. “The reality is there is a cost factor involved and student performance as well. There is a two- to three-year transitional time by the time you make changes to the graduation requirements.”
School board chairman John Noah Jackson, District 4, said the research provided during the work session will be used for information purposes and will be taken into consideration as the school board progresses toward its mission to educate to graduate.
“The idea of [the seven-period day school structure] came from our budget retreat last October. The presentation was for information purposes and it’s something we’re exploring; we’ll have to do more research and look at it in-depth. We will have more presentations and discussions on it,” Jackson said. “We’re just getting information on it and looking at ways overall throughout the system at different things to change or improve over the next several fiscal years.”
“If we’re looking at transitioning to any type of schedule, it will take a year of thorough research,” Swain said. “It’s important we do research and study to make sure whatever we do, any way we do it, is for the good of the students at all times.”
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