Bel Air principal would stretch school resources with longer classes

September 20, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

The principal at Bel Air High School says he has found a way to stretch the school's resources without spending a penny more: Require students to take four 1 1/2 -hour classes a day instead of seven 45-minute classes.

Principal William M. Ekey says his plan would enable students to earn an additional credit each year and dramatically reduce the number of students a teacher would have at any given time.

Halfway through the school year, students would take another four classes, earning eight credits a year instead of the current seven. Some classes, such as music, would run both semesters.

Mr. Ekey said his plan would carve out an additional 92 hours of instructional time for students and 93 more hours of planning time for teachers, without lengthening the school day. Teachers could cut their daily student load from 150 students to about 75, he said.

Typically, a teacher's duty in high school runs from 7:15 a.m. to 2:35 p.m., while students attend from 7:45 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., he said. The hours would not change. Teachers now teach five classes a day, but would teach three under the proposal.

Mr. Ekey presented his proposal to the school board Monday. The program could begin next year if faculty approve it. Faculty would be asked to vote on the change, perhaps as early as late next month, Mr. Ekey said.

He said about a dozen high schools nationwide have switched to four-class days. One of them, Governor Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick County, made the change this year to reduce the number of students each teacher is responsible for -- about 75 students instead of 150, said Principal Michael Riley.

"A high school teacher's assignment is insane," Mr. Riley said. He said teachers had typically worked at home two to three hours each night "just to keep their heads above water" by grading essays and homework. Fewer students mean teachers can do more than just lecture because they have time for hands-on activities and new teaching methods.

Jean Thomas, president of the Harford County Education Association, said she supports Mr. Ekey's plan.

"The teachers who really love this will be those who teach classes such as home economics, physical education, any classes that are a lab," she said. More time can be spent on learning in each class than in setting up and cleaning up, she said.

Ms. Thomas said teachers would also have more planning time each day. Typically, teachers have two non-instructional periods each day, one for planning the next day, the other for administrative duties such as hall monitoring. She said Mr. Ekey assured her that teachers would actually get more planning time, with two 30-minute duty periods each week.

Mr. Ekey said many teachers were interested but concerned that they might not have enough time to gear up for the change.

Some teachers will have to change the way they teach, and that's for the best, Mr. Ekey said. To hold a student's attention for 1 1/2 hours, teachers will have to lecture less and involve students more, he said.

But Ronald Eaton, a school board member, said he worried that students might not have the attention span to sit through a 1 1/2 -hour class. "The mind will absorb only as long as the seat can bear," he said.

Mr. Ekey, who teaches algebra, said keeping a student's interest for 1 1/2 hours should not be difficult.

"I could easily keep kids occupied and interested for twice that long," he said. "If I can do it, any teacher in the building could do it."

Michael J. Harris, student representative on the board, said he was concerned that some teachers would not have the training they need.

"What will be done to prepare the social studies teacher who has been lecturing for 20 years?" he asked.

Ray R. Keech, schools superintendent, said he supported the change and believed it would lead to more student achievement. "Students would be in the classrooms more and in hallways less," he said.

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