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Waccamaw High: High schools want a return to traditional class schedule

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Principals at the county’s four high schools want to change the block scheduling that was adopted 15 years ago in favor of a more traditional schedule with shorter classes conducted over a full year.

The current schedule has four 90-minute classes in each semester. The biggest criticism of the schedule is its lack of continuity. A student who takes algebra in the fall semester of his freshman year might not take geometry until the spring of his sophomore year.

“Some of it is lost,” said Patti Hammel, the district’s director of student performance.

Science and foreign languages also suffer from those gaps, and require teachers to start a new course reviewing old material, she said.

The change will require approval from the Georgetown County School Board, which heard the recommendation from principals last week. The board will need to make a decision next month for the change to be implemented in the fall, Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

Waccamaw High will host a forum on the scheduling proposal next week.

In place of the block schedule, the principals want a seven-period day. That would allow five core subjects and two electives. Over four years, that would add up to the 28 credits needed to graduate.

The district now has freshman academies that have eight-period schedules. Hammel said Andrews and Carvers Bay, where the academies started two years ago, showed “massive” improvements in end-of-course exams.

The impact was also seen in sophomore science.

Hammel believes the return to a traditional schedule will also help the district improve graduation rates.

Board Members Teresa Bennani and Pat DeLeone are concerned the change will hurt students who take Advanced Placement and Pace classes, which are college-credit courses. “You have numerous students that are taking AP and Pace, which are needed to be competitive in college,” Bennani said.

David Hammel, principal at Waccamaw High, said most AP teachers there said they preferred the 52-minute classes year round. AP science teachers objected because of the lab requirement, but he said that could be met by adding an “early bird” period at 7:25 a.m.

He taught chemistry at Waccamaw High when the district converted to block scheduling in 1996. “It’s an adjustment,” he said.

Schools around the state are shifting back toward a traditional schedule. “We don’t do anything new in education, we go in cycles,” Dozier said.

He shares parent and teacher concerns about continuity of courses. Those parent concerns prompted the school board to conduct a survey in 2008, which found most respondents favored block schedules.

One argument in favor of blocks is that there is more time to explore topics thoroughly.

But David Hammel said it doesn’t always work out that way.

With time allotted for teaching new material and then reviewing it, there can be time left during a period but not enough to start on a new topic. In a block schedule, “you may have the same amount of instructional time, but you can’t continuously teach new material,” he said.

Patti Hammel said year-long courses and improved continuity should give students a stronger foundation for AP classes as well as improving basic skills in English and math. “We want our students to be competitive,” she said.

One argument against blocks was that they would require additional planning to be able to fill the 90-minute periods. Now that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction, officials note that the teachers will have twice the number of students with only half the amount of planning time. “From a teachers’ perspective, block scheduling is pretty appealing,” Dozier said.

If the district is able to keep class sizes at 20 to 25 students, that won’t be a problem, David Hammel said.

Patti Hammel said teachers are willing to give up planning time. “They see better engagement in the new schedule,” she said.

Schools have set up parent meetings to get comments on the proposal. “I’d like to have a little more input and discussion,” Dozier said. “I would expect it to generate some discussion.”

The Waccamaw High forum is Wednesday at 6 p.m.

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