Schools may get choice of schedule

Plan would allow principals to pick 4- or 7-period day

Board to vote tonight

January 23, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County middle schools would abandon the six-period school day and principals would choose between a four-period or seven-period day under a recommendation by interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson.

The school board is expected to make a final decision tonight on a new middle school scheduling plan that would comply with a state order that all children take physical education, health and fine arts courses every year - while maintaining the county's intensive reading program.

Under the recommendation he passed on to the board yesterday, Lawson would ask each middle school principal to choose four or seven periods - after meeting with faculty and parents - by Feb. 15. The compromise pleased many yesterday.

"One size does not fit all," said Christopher Truffer, principal of Corkran Middle School in Glen Burnie. "To allow us the flexibility to try and make a decision we feel is in the best interest of our community is a good thing."

In the seven-period day, classes would run for 47 minutes and children would have time for two electives every day. Under a four-period day, classes would be 86 minutes, with one period for electives; the four core academic subjects would rotate daily.

All sixth-graders now take two periods of reading every day. Under Lawson's plan, that will expand to seventh-graders next year.

The middle school schedule has been such a divisive issue during the past few months that even the 19 middle school principals couldn't agree on a plan. The principals met for several hours last week and were torn between the four- and seven-period days.

In a joint letter to Lawson, the principals wrote, "It was difficult for our group to reach consensus because each principal was considering and advocating for the unique needs of students, staff and community members."

In the end, the principals agreed only that teachers needed more planning time during the school day and that the intensive reading program, which began last fall for county sixth-graders, should continue.

Lawson, it seems, heeded that advice. His recommendation to the board states that teachers could teach only five classes per day in schools that choose the seven-period day.

That would mean an average class size of 32 children, up from the current 28, but it would also give teachers 94 minutes of planning time every day.

"There is a direct, common-sense correlation between the quality of a teacher's lessons and the time the teacher has to prepare those lessons," Lawson wrote in his recommendation.

Under the four-period model, teachers would have 86 minutes of planning time daily and the average class would have 30 children. The new schedule would go into effect in the fall.

Lawson said in his written recommendation that the school system should "vigorously seek" an additional $3 million from the county to reduce class size. That money would pay for 70 more teachers and bring the average class size down to 29 children in both four-period and seven-period schools.

Parents who have fought the school system for months over the middle school schedule said they will gladly join the fight for more money.

"We'll aggressively work for funding because that's key." said Terra Ziporyn Snider of Severna Park, chairwoman of the Coalition for Balanced Excellence in Education, which has endorsed the seven-period day.

Although class sizes are a concern, Snider said, she was happy with Lawson's recommendation.

"That was the most logical solution and probably the fairest," she said.

Lawson's recommendation allows Brooklyn Park Middle to continue with its four-period day and Meade Middle to continue with its seven-period day. Those schools have run on those schedules for several years, with the support of their communities.

The rest of the county's middle schools run on six-period days.

The school board will meet at 7 p.m. today at the board headquarters, 2644 Riva Road in Annapolis.

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