Budget issues prompting class schedule change

Published 6:24 pm Friday, May 14, 2010

Brookhaven High School is abandoning the block next fall andreverting to a seven-period schedule, a restructuring moveadministrators say will cut costs while enhancinginstruction.

Brookhaven School District Superintendent Lea Barrett said thedistrict has long considered shelving the four-period blockschedule, which puts students in classes for 90 minutes at a time,in favor of the seven-period, 55-minute rotation because the latterplan allows more time for classroom instruction and doesn’t putsuch a drain on students.

The final motivation for installing the seven-period schedule,however, was money.

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“This will allow us to save four teacher positions,” Barrett said,pointing out that number of retiring or otherwise leaving teacherswould not be replaced for the 2010-11 school year. “On afour-by-four block, you have the potential for eight classes forchildren every year, and you have to provide 32 teaching slots. Onthe seven-period schedule, you need 28 teaching slots.”

The district has scrambled to cut itself down to size in recentweeks as state revenues – and therefore education funding -continue to fall. Last month the district cut programs and seventeachers that ran them, with additional plans to leave 20-30teaching positions vacant for the following year.

Barrett said the district began the 2009-10 school year with $12.9million in funding through the Mississippi Adequate EducationProgram, but has since had $943,374 cut away. If Gov. Haley Barbourapproves the education funding plan found in House Bill 1622 bynext Friday, the district’s bottom line will increase slightly butwill still be down $799,125 from where it began.

The funding situation statewide is expected to get worse. Barrettsaid education officials fully expect another 5 percent cut to allstate agencies shortly after Barbour approves the fiscal year 2011budget. Some federal funding may be reduced as well.

Rumor has it the federal Title IV program, which pays for Safe andDrug Free Schools Program, will be eliminated completely, while theTitle II program that funds extra teachers for elementary gradeswill be chopped by 10 percent.

The combined loss of the two programs will amount to more than$153,000, Barrett said, leaving the district to come up with moneyfrom other sources to continue utilizing the security officers,drug testing for athletes and character education courses that area part of Title IV.

While money was the catalyst, the benefits of changing to theseven-period schedule are not all financial.

BHS Principal Dr. Jay Smith said the seven-period schedule wouldallow teachers more time to plan and execute their instructionalapproach and add more projects and extra studies, as classes onthat schedule last the entire school year. In the block schedule,classes are confined to a single semester.

The seven-period schedule’s 55-minute classes are also easier onstudents’ ability to learn, whereas the 90-minute schedule tends todrag on and cause distraction, Smith said.

“I personally believe that with teenagers’ attention spans beingwhat they are, 55 minutes of instructional time lends to that muchbetter than 90 minutes,” he said.

Smith, who researched the difference between the block andseven-period schedules and has been published in educationjournals, said block scheduling was intended to reduce disciplinaryissues by keeping students in classrooms longer and reducing timein the halls. The plan backfired, resulting in disciplinary issuestaking place in the classroom instead, he said.

“You don’t have as many problems changing classes, but if you lookat our discipline referrals, most of them come from the last 30-35minutes of the 90-minute block,” Smith said.

The biggest drawback of the seven-period schedule is that itburdens extracurricular activities. Smith plans to schedule highschool band practice in the first and second periods of the daynext fall, while student athletes will report to their sportsduring the sixth and seventh periods.

The seven-period schedule will also eliminate Decembergraduations.

Smith is planning to meet with the parent advisory board to discussthe new schedule during the week of May 24.