Muscogee County's public high schools will start each class day 15 minutes earlier than last year.
Superintendent David Lewis announced the changed during Monday night's Muscogee County School Board meeting.
The dismissal time will remain the same. So when the 2015-16 school year starts Aug. 10, the schedule will be as follows:
Jordan and Spencer: Doors open at 7:20 a.m.; classes start at 7:50 a.m.; students dismissed at 3:25 p.m.
All other MCSD high schools: Doors open at 7:40 a.m.; classes start at 8:10 a.m.; students dismissed at 3:25 p.m.
Jordan and Spencer have longer instructional days because they receive extra federal funds through School Improvement Grants to address previous years of poor academic achievement.
Facing a projected budget deficit of more than $10 million in advance of last school year, Lewis' administration changed the high school schedules from eight periods to seven periods to save an estimated $4 million to $4.5 million by reducing the high school staff by as much as 15 percent. Instead of the 4x4 block schedule with four courses in the fall semester and another four courses in the spring semester, the 2014-15 schedule was a 4x7 modified block, containing three 90-minute classes meeting every other school day and one 50-minute class meeting every school day.
That schedule change meant high school students took seven courses during the academic year instead of eight. It also meant high school teachers had a planning period every other school day instead of daily.
Lewis' administration surveyed the high school teachers in the spring, and approximately 88 percent voted for a straight seven period schedule instead of the 4x7 modified block, he said.
This schedule change will return the daily planning period to high school teachers, but it requires more time spent going from class to class because students will have seven periods instead of four each school day. All of which amounts to roughly 15 more minutes spent in the hallways - and that's why MCSD will start the high school days 15 minutes earlier.
After the meeting, Lewis told the Ledger-Enquirer that the high school schedule change is budget neutral, meaning it won't save or cost more money.
New academic chief
Board chairman Rob Varner of District 5 and at-large representative Kia Chambers were absent from the meeting. The seven board members in attendance unanimously approved Keith Seifert as the district's new chief academic officer.
Seifert replaces Ronie Collins, who retired to become principal of Pacelli Catholic High School, her alma mater. Lewis honored Collins and retired chief financial officer Sharon Adams during the meeting. In December, the board approved replacing Adams with Theresa Thornton, who was the treasurer for Fulton County Schools.
Seifert has been an educator for 24 years, all in the Muscogee County School District. He has served as the executive director of K-12 curriculum and instruction since 2014. He was the secondary education director from 2005-14, principal of Hardaway High School from 1999-2005, assistant principal at Hardaway from 1994-99 and a health and physical education teacher and coach at Hardaway from 1991-94.
He earned a specialist's degree in school administration and supervision from Troy State University-Phenix City in 1997, a master's degree in school administration and supervision from Columbus College in 1991 and a bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Columbus College in 1988. He was an NCAA Division II First-Team All-American catcher in 1986 and Most Valuable Player on the Columbus College baseball team in 1985 and 1986. He was inducted into the Columbus State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.
Seifert told the board after its vote, "This is not about me; this is about we." He thanked his mentors and concluded, "I want to see the kids raise to the level that they need to raise so we can be that premiere district that Dr. Lewis has talked about, and we will do that."
Lewis responded, "Mr. Seifert is a testament to what hard work will do. Positions such as the one he has been appointed to this evening are not entitlements based on years of service but on effort and work, which he has demonstrated and did so during the interview. I am convinced he can take us to that next level, along with the help and support of his department and team members. As he said, we are creating a 'we' for a better 'us.'"
Learn to Swim
The board also unanimously approved a pilot program, called Learn to Swim, which will offer free swimming lessons for kindergarten students at three elementary schools: Rigdon Road, St. Marys Road and Wynnton.
MCSD will partner with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department, which received a donation from an anonymous local corporation to pay for the lessons and transportation to the Columbus Aquatic Center during the students' physical education time. Certified instructors will teach each school's 10 sessions of 30-minute swimming lessons over a two-week period. The donation will cover the estimated $3,776 cost per school, averaging 100 kindergartners each, for the 2015-16 school year.