4 periods for classes gain favor in schools Westminster High, S. Carroll plan adoption in Sept.

November 19, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The four-period day no longer will be the exception in Carroll County high schools. By September, at least two more high schools will switch to the schedule that North Carroll High School pioneered two years ago.

Westminster High and South Carroll High will begin modified versions of the schedule in September -- a decision their staffs made last year.

"We decided to delay it one year to make sure we were prepared," said Westminster High Principal Sherri-Le Bream. Teachers wanted more time to develop more hands-on activities and student-centered lesson plans, a shift from teacher-centered lectures. South Carroll staff members also have been focusing their efforts on teaching skills that will help with a longer period, but which would benefit students regardless of the schedule, said Principal David Booz.

"You just can't take two 45-minute lessons and put them together to have a 90-minute lesson," Ms. Bream said.

Francis Scott Key High School faculty will debate the issue and vote tomorrow, although the results will be just one step toward a decision by the principal and superintendent this winter.

Liberty High School also is considering a change, although it may not be to four periods. The school-improvement team is studying different ways to structure the schedule, but has not set a deadline for when to do so.

Each school will develop a slightly different plan, but the main idea is to have fewer, longer periods in a day. At North Carroll, students have four 90-minute classes each day, com- pared with the former seven 45-minute periods. The four classes last one semester instead of all year.

Two years ago, North Carroll was among the second wave of high schools in the state to move to a four-period -- usually called a "four-mod," as in "module" -- day. Three years ago, Gov. Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick was the first. Schools in Colorado and Virginia have worked with such a schedule for several years.

Advantages

Advocates say the result is that teachers can get to know their students better because they have fewer of them. The longer class affords time for more in-depth study and discussion, they say.

Students also can take more courses -- eight per year instead of seven. And time spent in changing classes is cut in half, meaning more instructional time, they say.

The problems with the schedule involve classes that some teachers and administrators say work better on a yearlong basis, such as band, the newspaper and some English classes that involve a lot of reading.

"The biggest hassle has been what to do with band," Mr. Booz said. "We decided to team Band I with health and physical education and have them meet every other day."

Band II will be paired with U.S. history and science research.

At Westminster High School, the staff also has devised a hybrid to allow some performance classes to be yearlong and meet every other day.

At Liberty, the staff is considering longer periods in the morning and shorter periods in the afternoon.

Staff support is key

The high schools are autonomous in deciding whether to pursue a change in structure and, if so, what it should be.

Administrators have stressed that a wholesale change will work only if the staff is behind it.

At North Carroll, for example, most of the push came from teachers such as Peter Litchka, who visited schools as far away as Colorado and reported back to his colleagues.

The North Carroll staff embraced the concept and moved ahead with it within a year. The other schools have taken more time, watching to see how things worked at North Carroll.

By most accounts, teachers, students and administrators were happy with the plan after the first semester.

Principal Kent Kreamer said test performance and attendance are up.

"For the first quarter, 48.8 percent of our student body has had perfect attendance," Mr. Kreamer said. The honor roll has more names. More students are taking advanced placement courses and tests. The dropout rate is down.

The success at North Carroll has influenced the other schools, but they still are moving slowly to ensure a consensus.

For example, the Key faculty will vote tomorrow, but there are several more steps: The results of the vote will go to the School Improvement Team to be used in deciding whether to recommend something to the principal, who will in turn decide whether to ask the superintendent for approval. And then it has to go to the school board.

Key Principal George Phillips said some parents have complained that they don't get to vote. But he said parents and community members can submit comments and are represented the School Improvement Team and school board.

Mr. Phillips favors the change to longer periods.

Study lends support

"I was very happy to see North Carroll verify what the literature says is happening," Mr. Phillips said. A study committee endorsing the idea has said it will "calm the building down" by reducing the time spent changing classes.

Students will have more opportunities to take classes that might otherwise not be offered, such as upper-level art classes and science electives such as astronomy and geology. Usually, those classes have too few students signing up to be offered, but that could change if students have more room for electives.

As the county's smallest school by about 300 students (Key has 964 students), it might be a challenge to build a schedule of classes to meet the needs of all students. But that wouldn't be new, Mr. Phillips said. Being small has always been a challenge. He doesn't think the school's size should prohibit change.

"We have to stop thinking of ourselves as a small school and start thinking of ourselves as a medium-sized school in a small building," he said.

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