Educators past and present weighed in on the advantages and disadvantages of block scheduling at the Hall County school board meeting on Monday.
The board proposed last week to move Hall high schools from a four-period day to a hybrid schedule where three days have seven periods and two days have four periods.
A dozen teachers voiced various concerns about the proposed schedule, and said an increased academic load may cause more students to burn out. Teachers said also that they were concerned the model would give teachers less planning time during the school day and longer work hours to plan and grade assignments for the increased student load.
Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said he and the school board are considering the model because it would reduce teachers’ planning time, allowing the system to cut five or six faculty members at each of the system’s seven high schools.
He estimates the personnel reductions would annually save the system between $2.5 million and $3 million.
Hall County Board of Education Chairman Richard Higgins said the board is under a lot of pressure from the state and from local taxpayers to reduce its spending.
"I assure you that we’re going to take our time and do the best we can," Higgins told the teachers. "... It’s a work in progress. We’re going to have to work through this together."
Teachers also expressed concerns about how the change would affect dual enrollment students, classes at Lanier Career Charter Academy, test preparation and graduation requirements.
A retired educator who taught on a six-period model said the seven-period day could have some pluses, such as allowing for more repetition to cement understanding and allowing teachers to provide a more in-depth approach to the curriculum.
Following the school board meeting, Gerald Boyd, school improvement specialist for Hall County schools, presided over the system’s first public hearing on its intent to become an Investing in Education Excellence, or IE2, school system.
Boyd said the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement asked school systems to determine before 2013 whether school systems want to be charter systems, regular school systems or IE2, which is a hybrid of charter and regular models. Schofield said because the Hall system is too big to be a charter system and because he and the board deem the status quo as not an option, system leaders are exploring the possibility of Hall schools becoming an IE± system.
"We’ve got to give our kids the opportunity to take it to the next level," Schofield said. "... For us, this means very little change."
Gwinnett and Forsyth county school systems already operate under the IE2 model.
Schofield said he would like parents, teachers and students to provide central office administrators with input on how they believe the system could best develop its own IE2 plan to increase rigor and student achievement in all schools.
Boyd said the Hall school system is working on its own IE2 plan that would in some ways mirror charter systems that are allowed more flexibility from state laws in exchange for more data-driven accountability. He said Hall’s accountability plan would ask more of its students and teachers than the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
"By adopting an IE2 contract, we are not saying we want to accomplish minimal goals," he said. "This is a contract of rigor."
Each system school is developing its own five-year plan to define goals based on state and national test data for increased student achievement across the curriculum and especially in writing, he said. Schools that do not meet their goals at least three out of five years become charter schools that take on new management.
The system’s proposed IE2 plan would ask the state Board of Education for flexibility on class sizes to allow for break-out groups to strengthen students’ academic weaknesses, expenditure controls, teacher certification requirements as proven to be successful at the World Language Academy and flexibility on graduation requirements.
"We are asking for flexibility as a means to provide the best resources and environments possible for our students," Boyd said.
Hall school board member Nath Morris said he views the IE2 plan as an opportunity for local residents to play a larger role in crafting their child’s education than what Boyd said the state’s "restrictive" rules currently allow.
"This gives our parents and kids the opportunity to say, ‘This is the direction we want to go in,’" Morris said.
Boyd said the board will host at least one more public hearing on the system’s IE2 plan before it is presented to the state Department of Education and state Board of Education for review and approval. The next public hearing has not yet been scheduled.