The Board of Education is looking at a plan to shift all county high schools to a seven period day, similar to what Sandy Creek has been doing for two years. Superintendent Jody Barrow believes the change would allow greater flexibility for students to take more electives and would also benefit further efforts to create more programs that aren't school specific, such as the sort of centralized offerings that might come if a Fayette College and Career Academy were established.
Sandy Creek Principal Dr. Darrell Evans presented his assessment of the seven period day at Monday's board meeting, offering an overwhelmingly positive take. Evans said the six period day had been hampering student involvement in electives and programs like ROTC because they had to fill most of their class slots with courses that would accumulate necessary credits for graduation.
With a seventh period, Evans said participation in electives, Advanced Placement, and ROTC have grown. He was especially encouraged by a fairly significant growth in participation in Advanced Placement courses which can earn students college credits if they score well enough on AP exams.
Evans said the cons included the loss of a twenty minute instructional focus period and difficulty managing lunch periods, which had to be cut at Sandy Creek from three lunches to two, meaning more students were packed into the cafeteria each period. Evans explained that he was fortunate to have a large cafeteria that could accommodate the change, but sorting out lunch might be trickier in schools with smaller spaces.
Dr. Barry Marchman wondered whether putting all schools on a seven period plan would be "homogenizing" them in a potentially unhelpful way.
"I don't really see them as homogenous units that have the exact same needs," Marchman said.
Barrow said that while he understood the concern, he felt the change could actually provide more flexibility.
"I don't think necessarily that everybody's going to be a cookie cutter situation. In fact, I see lots of opportunities for flexibility," Barrow said, and reemphasized that he felt the district is moving toward a College and Career Academy type model in which students from different schools could take courses they are interested whether or not there are the numbers to support them at any one school. He underscored this as a form of flexibility for students to design a curriculum they are interested in, and said that establishing some consistency in schedules across schools would be necessary to move in this direction.
Some schools are currently using what is called a zero period in their six period day, an option for students to show up earlier in the day, providing a flexibility of its own kind. Barrow said that schedules designed in that manner aren't necessarily mutually exclusive from a seven period schedule and that school principals would retain the ability to be flexible to suit their students' needs.
Dr. Mary Kay Bacallao questioned whether the seven-period day had negatively impacted student achievement in core subjects and said she would not make any decision on schedule changes without further data.
Evans explained that the shift from six to seven periods had no noticeable effect on student performance at Sandy Creek, and in fact the school had seen improvements in certain testing areas along with the increased enrollment in AP courses. Evans suggested that to draw direct conclusions as to what did or didn't effect would require more time to establish a trend.
Dr. Bob Todd repeatedly made the point that as the state has increased the necessary number of credits in core subjects, the viability of a six period day has decreased.
"The state has filled up the six period day with lots of requirements, and now they've handed us 19 career paths. You can't get there without a seven period day, you can't get there without a seven period day, I'll repeat, you can't get there without a seven period day," Todd said.
Barrow re-emphasized that he saw the change as a necessary step toward designing a better school system.
"I want to break down the walls and the barriers that we'e had traditionally and create something that's unique in Fayette in terms of matching up kids with their passions and also hopefully setting them up for a career. That's important," Barrow said.
The board voted 4-1 to allow Barrow and his staff to move forward with designing a seven period plan across the system. Bacallao was the only one to vote against the motion for "lack of data."