Schools, parents review classes

Principals listen to community input as they weigh choice

Four vs. seven periods

February 10, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

As Anne Arundel's middle school principals face a deadline this week for choosing a four- or seven-period school day, parents and teachers are making their thoughts known.

They want a seven-period day.

All 19 middle schools must move to a new schedule this fall to comply with state curriculum requirements. The decision -- four periods a day or seven -- rests with the principals, but they have been instructed to consider the will of their communities.

After hearing what he described as "overwhelming" support for seven periods, Crofton Middle Principal Richard Berzinski decided Friday that his school would adopt that model, which is not too different from the six-period day his school now runs.

"In the end, it was real easy," he said. "Our teachers know how to do it, and our students have been successful."

Crofton appears to be the first school to make a choice. Principals have until Friday to inform the school system headquarters of their decision.

At a forum at Southern Middle School last week, more than 125 parents voted on the schedule options. Five voted for the four-period day; the rest wanted seven periods.

The teachers at George Fox Middle in Pasadena took a straw poll and were in favor of the seven-period day by 36-to-4. At Arundel Middle in Odenton, teachers and students were polled last week, and the seven-period day won out with both groups.

At other schools, parents and teachers said a consensus for seven periods was clear in faculty meetings and community forums. But they expressed concern that their voices weren't being heard. They said some principals were pushing a four-period day over the objections of parents and teachers.

At a Chesapeake Bay Middle meeting in Pasadena last week, most parents favored a seven-period day, but they were under the impression that Principal Gary Williams was in favor of a four-period day, said two people who were at the meeting.

"People thought he had already decided, and we wondered why we were even there," said Sue Wincek, who has a son at Severna Park Middle but attended the Chesapeake meeting.

Williams was not in his office Friday and could not be reached for comment, a secretary said.

At a meeting with about 50 parents Thursday night, George Fox Principal Kevin Dennehy pointed out so many flaws in the seven-period day that one parent told him, "It sounds like you've pretty much made your decision."

Dennehy insisted he had not. But in an interview Friday, he expressed a desire to shake up the school in an attempt to improve test scores, which are below the county and state averages.

"My concern was, Do you expect scores to change if you keep doing the same thing?" Dennehy said. "This is an opportunity for us to do something significantly different."

Those who favor a seven-period day point to Meade Middle School as proof that it can work. Meade has been running a seven-period day since opening in 1997. This year, the school's score on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program rose 13 points -- more than any other school in the county.

"Parents want us to keep those scores up, and they want us to stick as close to what we're doing as possible," said Meade Assistant Principal Wendy Slaughter. The school is "pretty much set" on sticking with seven periods, she said.

Brooklyn Park Middle, meanwhile, will probably stick with the four-period day that the school began running last year, said Principal Brenda Hurbanis. "Parents, teachers and students have been very pleased with the four-period day," she said.

All other county middle schools, besides Meade and Brooklyn Park, now run a six-period day.

Supporters of seven periods say it will give children more exposure to elective courses, such as art and foreign language, and allow them to have their core academic courses every day -- a consistency they say is important to children.

Under the four-period day, the four academic courses -- math, science, social studies and language arts -- rotate among three periods, so one is dropped out every day.

At some schools, teachers of electives are the loudest opponents of the four-period day. Under that option, classes such as art, technical education and family and consumer science would meet once every three days, and just for one semester.

"It would take me three weeks to cover what I now cover in one week," said Gary Bater, a technical education teacher at George Fox.

Seventh-grade French and Spanish classes would meet just once every three days under the four-period day.

Those who favor the four-period day say the longer periods allow teachers to engage students in lessons with activities and provide more time for the core academic subjects. They say teachers will get to know students better and have a smaller projected student load -- 120 students instead of 163 in the seven-period day.

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