Central High School's schedule change postponed

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 25, 2014 

Central High School's proposed move from a seven-period day to a modified block schedule has been postponed for a year.

Interim superintendent Rod Hinton told the Phenix City Board of Education during Tuesday evening's work session that changing the schedule is the right direction but not the right time. He wants the high school to lift its teaching level and the system to fund other priorities first.

"We made a lot of improvement on student engagement," Hinton said, "but if you remember most districts have the biggest problem when they move to a block of any form: You've got an hour and a half to teach, and you're going to teach for 30 minutes and do paperwork and busywork for an hour. I don't think if we went to it today we would do that, but I don't think we're totally ready to go to the level of engagement that we want in these classrooms at this point in time."

A traditional block schedule has four 90-minute classes each semester for a total of eight classes per year for students. A modified block schedule also has eight classes per year but divides them throughout the week between alternating A and B days. The traditional seven-period schedule has 50-minute classes and more time spent changing classes.

The financial reason for the delay, Hinton said, is to devote more money to improving the high school's special education program and the system's alternative school, called the Success Academy.

Additional teachers would be needed to implement a block schedule because it comprises eight periods instead of seven. It would cost an estimated $250,000 in the system's $71 million budget to add five more teachers to Central's 74-member faculty, Hinton said, and it would be even more expensive to fulfill the request of adding seven more teachers, which Central officials proposed during their presentation to the board last month.

"The high school special ed program needs gutting and starting over," Hinton said. "We've got to invest in that. We've got to invest in the Success Academy and make it a success academy and not a prison."

Cheryl Burns, the system's chief financial officer, said making the Success Academy a full-day program instead of half a day will require more money for more computers and more desks.

"Could we fund the block schedule and all these other needs? Yes, but we would probably put ourselves at a very stressful level," said Burns, who earlier noted the system's reserve covers 1.61 months of expenditures and the goal is to get to two or 2½ months.

Central principal Tommy Vickers expressed support for Hinton's decision.

"Dr. Hinton has some plans for some things I've been asking for several years in the special ed arena and some other areas that I know will make Phenix City Schools better," Vickers said. "My immediate focus is Central High School, but Phenix City Schools is what's the most important thing.

"The goals that he has outlined and the strategy that he has, putting those resources where they're needed, it's going to make Central High School better in the long run, regardless of what type of schedule we're on. So it absolutely makes sense."

Hinton later disclosed that he will propose creating a second curriculum director position, dividing the duties into elementary and secondary levels, possibly having one with an expertise in math and science and the other in English and social studies.

Across the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, the current is flowing in the opposite direction when it comes to the high school schedule. Last week, the Muscogee County School Board approved superintendent David Lewis' request to switch from eight periods to seven periods. Faced with a projected $10 million budget gap for next fiscal year, Lewis estimated $4 million to $4.5 million can be saved with fewer classes, allowing the district to reduce the staff at the nine high schools by as much as 15 percent. Lewis said he hopes to do that through attrition and reassignments but can't guarantee there won't be layoffs. This year's budget in Muscogee is about $270 million.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow Mark on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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