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Seven-period day in debate for Georgetown schools

The Georgetown County School District is discussing switching from a block schedule to a seven-period day at its four high schools.

And most people seem willing to listen to what proponents have to say.

Parents attended a meeting at Carver's Bay High School on Thursday, wondering why the district is considering switching and what it would mean for their children.

Carver's Bay Principal Richard Neal said the principals of the four high schools proposed the idea to the district as a way to improve end-of-course test scores.

They believe those scores would improve under a traditional schedule because there would be gaps in core classes, he said.

"If your son or daughter were to start a math class now," Neal said to the group of 20 parents gathered in the high school's auditorium, "they could not experience another math class for a year."

Under the district's current four-by-four block scheduling, a student takes four classes a day each semester for a total of eight classes in the year.

That means a student could take a class in the first semester of one year and not take the next level of that class until the spring of the following year.

And that means teachers spend a lot of time reviewing material the students learned before but have forgotten.

"The traditional schedule would mean the only gap would be in the summer months," Neal said.

Under the proposed seven-period schedule, a student would take seven shorter classes a day and keep core classes for the entire year.

Ray Funnye said he likes the consistency of the proposed schedule.

"It's in line with our thinking at home that you need to have it be continuous," Funnye said. "I can't imagine [his son] taking a class one year and then having nothing on that subject for another year. All that stuff he learned that year would be gone."

But not everyone was behind the proposed change.

Annette Harvey wanted to know what would be done about students who failed a class. Under the current scheduling, a student who fails simply enrolls in the same class the next semester.

Neal said the current schedule does have a "built-in safety net," but said most students don't need many opportunities to retake classes and that there are other ways to make up classes.

Harvey was also worried about the homework load seven classes would bring.

"That's a lot of homework for one student, depending on the student," she said.

And teachers at the meeting agreed that the shorter class time could mean more take-home work, but they said the homework would not be as strenuous.

"Right now, because we have only 90 days, we have to go quick so we pile on homework," said Judith Robinson, a math teacher at the high school. "In 90 days, I'm trying to cover a year's worth of class. With this schedule, the pace will be much more smooth and it will be much more evenly paced."

Funnye said a survey of teachers at the high school revealed that most math teachers favor the schedule change, while many science teachers like the block schedule. English and history teachers' results were mixed, he said.

But Joanna Price, a science teacher, has taught under both schedules and said "there are pros and cons to both."

Mel Riddile, the National Association of Secondary School Principals' associate director for high school services, said after years of research and advising schools about scheduling, that's about the conclusion he has come to as well.

He said studies show that a quick burst of activity boosts retention for students, which would be an argument for traditional scheduling. But, he said, block scheduling allows for more in-depth classes and cuts down on time wasted by switching classes.

Horry County, Charleston County and Brunswick County, N.C., high schools have had block scheduling for years, but Horry County has also looked into switching to a traditional schedule recently.

Teal Britton, spokeswoman for Horry County Schools, said changing the schedule was "among a number of things that were being looked at for cost savings."

She the district could save about $3.7 million by switching to a traditional schedule because fewer teachers would be needed.

But that doesn't factor in other costs that would come as a result of the switch, and "overwhelmingly, it was not supported by students or parents or teachers," she said.

Britton said she can't imagine it would be approved if formally proposed.Cost savings were not the reason Georgetown County School District began looking into switching schedules, said Patti Hammel, director of professional development.

And she said so far it does not look like there will be much cost savings for the district.

Georgetown County School Board Chairman Jim Dumm, who was at the meeting Thursday, said no decision has been made or will be made until officials discuss what is best for the students.

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