Schools agree on schedule solutions

State board orders change to make time for fine arts and gym

November 18, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

If they must make midyear schedule changes - and they'd really rather not - most Anne Arundel County middle schools will add a short period to the school day to shoehorn children into the physical education and fine arts classes the state requires.

The 30-minute period probably will come at the top of the day, and it will come at some cost to other classes, which will lose five to seven minutes each.

But the extra period avoids the major schedule shake-up that so many parents, administrators and students had feared. Under the plan, pupils will not be moved out of classes they are taking this semester.

"Students chose the courses they did because they really wanted them," said Lindale Middle School Principal Charles Dunlap. "To remove them when they're meeting [the state requirements] seemed unfair and sent the wrong message."

Anne Arundel's 19 middle schools are being forced to make the midyear changes by the State Board of Education, which decided that all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders must take fine arts and physical education every year.

For almost three decades, Anne Arundel has offered those courses as electives. But the state board said that violates state law, and that the policy must change by February.

The Anne Arundel school system last week asked for a delay in implementing the requirements. Because of the hardship of making midyear changes, the system asked if it could put off the changes until next fall.

The state board will take up the extension request at its meeting Dec. 4 and 5, and will make a decision at that meeting or shortly thereafter, said board spokesman Ron Peiffer.

Meanwhile, the county's middle school principals were given three options to rejigger the schedules. About 8,500 of the county's 17,800 middle school students are not taking physical education or fine arts.

Last week, after lengthy meetings with teachers and parents, school principals made their decisions. Several principals compared the choice to deciding between death by poison and death by firing squad - it's going to be ugly either way.

Eleven middle schools chose option No. 1: Add an "exploratory" period to the school day. Pupils who need fine arts and physical education would take it during this time, while other pupils would get extra instruction in other subjects.

The middle schools choosing this option were Arundel, Bates, Central, Corkran, Crofton, George Fox, Lindale, Magothy River, Marley, Old Mill South and Severn River.

Six schools chose option No. 2: Change the schedules of children who need fine arts and physical education. This means some students who already take those classes will be forced out in February to make room, so thousands of children will see their schedules change.

The schools choosing this option were Annapolis, Chesapeake Bay, MacArthur, Meade, Old Mill North and Severna Park.

Two schools - Brooklyn Park and Southern - chose option No. 3: Add a day to the elective class rotation schedule. Most electives alternate daily on an A-day/B-day schedule. This option adds a C day to the mix. It would not affect academic courses.

To make the options happen, the schools have requested a few extra teachers for the second semester and extra administrators for next month and January.

"We don't want to go down this road, but we have to be prepared to do so," if the school system doesn't get the extension, said Reginald Farrare, principal of Annapolis Middle, who asked for one more fine arts teacher.

Farrare chose option No. 2 - rescheduling pupils individually - because his academic teachers didn't want time cut from their classes and his electives teachers didn't want to add a day to the elective rotation, which would reduce their time with pupils.

"Students already in compliance will be affected," Farrare said. "Their schedules will have to be changed to make room for those students who have not complied."

To prevent that from happening, most middle schools went with option No. 1, the short "exploratory" period, even though it means fine arts and physical education will be taught to students in their homerooms by teachers not certified in those subjects.

"Instructionally, I know there are things to be concerned about because of the shortness of the period and the fact that we have people not certified for P.E. teaching P.E.," said Chris Truffer, principal of Corkran Middle in Glen Burnie.

At Southern Middle in Lothian, Principal William J. Callaghan chose to add a day to the elective rotation to ensure that physical education and fine arts are taught by teachers certified in those subjects.

To do otherwise, he said, "is a mockery of what we're trying to do" as educators.

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