WCSD administration looks at options for high school reform

Warren County School District administrators have been talking about high school reform for years.

Now, they are talking about the same thing, but with a different name because the changes may go beyond the high school years. The administration presented some preliminary proposed changes to the school board’s curriculum, instruction, and technology committee. The changes involve the length of the school day and the number of periods each day. The board did not vote on the proposal.

“We’re looking at adding minutes to students,” Supervisor of Secondary Education Eric Mineweaser said. “We decided the seven-period day would be the most effective.”

“We’re trying to build in a lot of opportunities for kids,” Director of Administrative Support Service Gary Weber said. “It’s nine additional minutes. When you’re trying to eke out every minute you can…”

“We can do a better job foundationally with kids with a little bit of time,” Weber said.

In the proposal, the high school day, district-wide, would go from eight periods to seven.

That, combined with a 7:55 a.m. start time, 3:14 end time, and a reduction of home room time from 15 minutes to five minutes, would extend class periods from 42 minutes to 50 minutes. The current school day runs from 8:10 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.

There is also a reduction of time between classes from four minutes to three.

According to Mineweaser, that results in an increase of 24 hours — 126 to 150 — of instructional time over the course of a full-year class. “You can see the difference in hours,” he said. “There’s a lot more quality time in the classroom with the students. Giving the teachers that extra time with the students to dig deeper… that’s part of the goal.”

“Kids are going to be spending more time in core,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

Over four years, each high school student would spend almost 100 more hours English and social studies. District students have to take three years of math and science and an additional year of one or the other. Under the proposal, each student would spend almost 170 more hours over three years in math and science.

The district’s social studies requirement is more stringent than the state’s. “The state minimum requirement – four language arts, and three of the other three,” Weber said.

The district is not prepared to change its social studies requirement. “There was a strong desire from the principals that the core was the same,” Stewart said.

Students at Warren County Career Center would be the only ones eligible to take only three years of social studies, under the proposal. “The only other option was to take time away from the career center itself,” Weber said.

The district is not proposing a switch to seven periods because it is a popular thing to do.

“We’ve been running with a 42-minute schedule,” Stewart said. “When I talk to superintendents, it’s six period, seven period, eight period, nine period… There’s no emphatic sweet spot. It’s all over the board.”

Under the proposal, graduating seniors would have to have taken 24 credits. The current requirement is 27. Core classes take at least 15 of those — 14 in the career center. Graduation requirements would have to be phased in.

There will be some advisory opportunities available to all students. “Right now we do not have advisory opportunities for students coming out of high school,” Mineweaser said.

Taking away class periods while maintaining core requirements means there will be less time for students to fit in other courses.

Under the current system, students are required to take 12 electives and can opt for up to 17 over four years. The proposal reduces those numbers to nine and 13.

“Getting the musical opportunities is hard for kids,” Stewart said.

Board members had some additional concerns.

“Everything I’ve read is the best thing to do is make the start time later for the high school kids,” Tom Knapp said.

For the most part, the board seemed receptive to the ideas.

“What do you need from us and when are you rolling this out?” President Donna Zariczny said.

“If we have your blessing to get started, we’re going to be bringing in the curriculum coordinators,” Mineweaser said.

“We’ll get drafts ready for you to look at for the December and January meetings,” Stewart said.