Scheduling in the middle
Next year’s sixth-grade students could get more than school lockers as they enroll in middle school.
A new daily schedule for the Lawrence school district’s four middle schools — Central, South, Southwest and West — is in the works for 2011-12 in Lawrence public schools.
Members of the Lawrence school board are scheduled to get an update on the project Monday night. Administrators are scheduled to brief board members during a meeting that begins at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
In general, students increasingly would have more opportunities to take electives as they moved up from sixth grade to seventh, and from seventh grade to eighth.
Next year’s ninth-graders won’t be in junior high school anymore, and the Lawrence school district is working to adjust class schedules to stir the growing curiosity of freshmen while accommodating their relative youth.
Their fellow high schoolers would share in the changing times.
Administrators are putting together plans to schedule seven periods each school day at both Free State and Lawrence high schools, up from the current six. The change would not be expected to change the actual starting or ending times at either high school, but instead inject more choices for all students in between.
“To get seven things you like to do into six squares doesn’t always work,” said Robert Shandy, a counselor at Lawrence High.
The change would be part of the ongoing redesign of district schools, a broad shifting of grade levels to be implemented for next school year: Elementary schools will be for kindergarten through fifth grade; sixth grade will move up into newly designated middle schools; and ninth grade will leave junior highs for high school.
The movement of ninth-graders has prompted many questions, ranging from the practical — will there be enough room for everyone to eat lunch? — to the extracurricular, such as whether freshmen should be able to participate in marching band.
But the format of the actual school day itself long has been a focal point in discussions that began two years ago.
At issue: Each high school now has six periods per day, with an optional “zero hour” available for those seeking additional coursework or scheduling flexibility. Students in junior high, meanwhile, have grown accustomed to their eight periods per day.
With expanded access to electives and course options long touted as a benefit for elevating ninth-graders into high school, administrators knew they’d need to consider adding another class period to the high school day.
If the plan is approved — talks are under way with Lawrence Education Association to see how the changes might fit within the teachers’ negotiated work contract — students rising up through the educational ranks would be able to expect more opportunities to try various courses.
‘More choices’ ahead?
“You get more choices as you move on,” said Frank Harwood, the district’s chief operations officer. “You get to ninth grade and you have lots of choices.”
Current policy requires high schoolers to accumulate 23 credits — in English, social studies, math, science and other requirements — to graduate, a total that includes their ninth-grade years from junior high. If the high schools’ six-period days were retained, a student following a regular schedule would be able to earn only 24 credits.
Going to seven periods a day would give a student a chance to get 28 credits over four years, opening up more opportunities to take elective courses. And that would be an important expansion, considering the district has added more requirements — a third year of science, a fourth year of English — in recent years, Harwood said.
With the district facing ongoing budget stress, he said, the district wouldn’t be looking to actually add many, if any, elective courses.
“(Students) won’t have more things to choose from,” Harwood said. “You’ll just have more opportunities to do things you want to try.”
Class times would decrease, with each period losing about 20 to 25 minutes per week, Harwood said.
“But you get more classes, and the class times being looked at as part of the seven-period day are very similar to those in other districts,” Harwood said. “We think the options we open up with a seven-period day outweigh the loss of class time in any particular course.”
Flexibility vs. time
Shandy, who’s been teaching, coaching, administering and counseling in public schools for 39 years, knows the potential for shorter class periods might prompt concerns about students learning all they need to before graduation. School outcomes, of course, wouldn’t be expected to change.
“You’d have to cover all that material in lesser time,” he said.
Then again, a student taking two music courses — orchestra and choir, for example — might have the opportunity to enroll in a foreign language class. Or an athlete in weightlifting and debate could take part in an art class.
Such is the view from the counselor’s office at Lawrence High, where officials will be ready to arrange whatever schedules district leaders ultimately decide to implement for next year
“There’s a positive and a negative in everything we do in the world,” Shandy said.