Class plan raises flags

Scheduling system at high school `disastrous'

Students `roamed the halls'

Plan is possible model for other county schools

December 28, 2003|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

In a word, it has been "disastrous," Harford County Councilman Richard C. Slutzky said of the class-scheduling program implemented at Aberdeen High School at the start of the school year.

"Some kids had holes in their schedules," he said. "They roamed the halls with nothing to do.

"Some kids were placed in the wrong level classes. They signed up for Advanced Placement psychology and they got a general-level course.

"Some classes started the year with 62 kids in a class, while another class had only seven.

"Some teachers started the year with 180 pupils on their rolls, while other teachers had only 85 or 90," Slutsky said. "This caused a lot of dissension among teachers, who complained they had twice as many students as other teachers."

Slutzky said he has heard dozens of complaints from teachers, parents and students about the schedule at Aberdeen High. "I've gotten letters, phone calls, e-mails. And people stop me on the parking lot and in stores to complain."

There were other problems. Office secretaries were required to stand in for teachers during at least part of a class because the teachers' schedules conflicted with class schedules.

Some students were excluded from classes they needed for graduation, and others were put into classes they had already passed.

Schools Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas acknowledged the scheduling problems at Aberdeen High and said she is working with staff to see that there is no recurrence when the new Aberdeen High School, with its countywide science and math academy, opens in the fall.

Haas said that there are always problems when new systems are implemented but that the problems with the scheduling system exceeded what school officials had anticipated.

Haas said she would work with staff to get an early start on the scheduling of classes for next year to make things go more smoothly.

A major concern among students and parents was that the new schedule at Aberdeen High was a pilot program that was to be adopted by the other high schools in the county for next school year.

For this reason, Cindy Mumby, a resident of Bel Air, said she was holding off on a decision to have her son apply for a spot in the new science and math academy, a magnet school that will serve students throughout the county.

Haas said that she would like to have a consistent schedule at the county's nine high schools but that Aberdeen's program, which has eight periods a day and classes of 45 minutes and 90 minutes, has not been picked as the model.

School board member Robert B. Thomas Jr. of Joppatowne said he also thought that the Aberdeen High schedule was being considered for all schools. He said he got that impression from David A. Volrath, director of secondary education, when Volrath addressed the board about school reform May 6.

Volrath said Aberdeen High's schedule was created by the school's 11-member school improvement team. It is made up of the principal, teachers, a parent and a student.

"Trying to put all these parts together in a complex schedule created a situation that was right for errors," he said.

Slutzky said the complex scheduling data had too many variables for the school system's Pentamation computer program to handle. With a couple of weeks before the start of classes, Aberdeen High staff were working by hand to correct scheduling flaws.

Slutzky, who taught physical education at Aberdeen High and was the school's wrestling coach, pointed a finger at Volrath, saying that Volrath was involved in the scheduling plan while he was principal at Aberdeen High from 1996 until last year.

After saying he was "not the least bit involved" in setting up the schedule, Volrath said that as the principal he was one member of the team working on the schedule.

Thomas said he learned of the problems at Aberdeen only recently. "I heard within the last 10 days about the kids roaming the halls because they had no scheduled classes. That's most disturbing to me. I want the scheduling problem resolved before the new science and math academy goes on line."

Thomas said he favors having all schools on the same schedule, which makes it easier for students to transfer from one school to another. "I want us to find a schedule that best serves the students and the faculty, and implement it systemwide. It is far premature to say the eight-period program at Aberdeen is ready to go systemwide."

Mumby said she is most concerned about students not getting into the advanced classes they requested. "Any time a student is not allowed to pursue excellence, I'm extremely concerned," she said. "If there is a logistic problem in the way, it needs to be addressed immediately."

Deb Merlock, a vice president of the Harford County Council of PTAs, said the parents of Aberdeen students are concerned. "The new schedule was supposed to open opportunities for kids to have more classes and a greater variety of classes, but the kids are being locked out of classes."

Merlock said she understood that the schedule at Aberdeen was to be implemented systemwide next year but that it is being held up because of the problems.

She said parents are frustrated: "They are not getting answers to their questions. They want to know how this is going to be resolved for the students."

Jerry Lacey of Aberdeen said that about 30 parents have organized Concerned Aberdeen Parents and that they plan to express their concerns at the school board meeting scheduled for Jan. 12 at Bel Air Middle School.

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