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High schools sticking with block scheduling
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Effingham County high school students and teachers will drive ahead with the 4x4 block scheduling.

A committee put together by Superintendent Randy Shearouse recommended not changing the current scheduling system for students at both Effingham County and South Effingham high schools.

“We really felt like the graduation rate would suffer if we left block scheduling,” Shearouse said. “We feel like, even with its challenges, it’s the best scheduling model for us at this time. At this time, I don’t feel like we need to move away from block scheduling.”

Board Chairman Lamar Allen also offered his concerns over the impacts on graduation rates if the system went away from block scheduling.

“That’s one of our big goals, to upgrade the graduation rate. I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that,” he said.

The system received more than 1,000 comments on block scheduling.

“We feel like we could save some money by going back to a six- or seven-period day,” Shearouse said. “But we don’t feel like the students would have the opportunities they have.”

Shearouse said the committee also wanted to take a look at the financial impacts of block scheduling. With the 4x4 block, students take four classes, each about an hour and a half long, each day. They also reviewed how changing back to a more traditional six- or seven-period daily class schedule would affect the amount of instructional time students receive and how it would impact vocational programs and student elective choices.

“Block scheduling is more expensive,” he said.

Going back to the old way may be cheaper in the long run but would mean a huge cost in the short term, according to Assistant Superintendent Gregg Arnsdorff.

“You would have to go in and make massive purchases for textbooks,” he said. “That would definitely put a strain on the budget for a couple of years.”

Under block scheduling, students have more opportunities for electives, Shearouse said, and they also have more chances to make up credits.

Block scheduling also takes more staffing, he said, but it also allows teachers more time to collaborate and plan together. They also looked at workloads for students and teachers.

“Students like block scheduling,” Shearouse said. “Many times, they have two academic classes and two electives.”

Under the old schedule method, the school system got constant complaints with students having to take three or four tests a day. The start of block scheduling more than 10 years ago has eliminated that.

“That was a major concern,” Shearouse said, “but we don’t have that anymore. The tests are spread out, the preparation is spread out, and ultimately, that makes it better for the students.”

For teachers, block scheduling could mean the difference between grading 75 essays instead of 125 essays, Shearouse said.

The committee was composed of school system officials, both high school principals, instruction supervisors and teachers.

“We wanted to look at whether we had the best possible instructional model for both of our high schools,” Shearouse said, adding the 20-person group had a variety of people to represent the school system. “We receive concerns on block scheduling from time to time.”

The schedule set-up does pose some hurdles, Shearouse said. Tops among those are the time gaps for some students, who may take a math or language course in the first semester of a school year and not take the next course in that subject until the second semester of the following academic year.

“We know that’s something we need to look at,” he said.

There also were worries about the attention span of the students, who are with one teacher in one subject for 90 minutes at a time.

“That gets to be pretty tough,” Shearouse said. “We have to make sure we have varied activities during those 90 minutes so the students are paying attention and we are maximizing that 90-minute period.”

The group also looked at adjusting some blocks by shortening the length of time in class each day but lengthening the number of days in that class. Such a move could be used in courses such as math, Shearouse said, where the system is having some issues.

“That’s something we’ll look at,” he said. “You do that too much, you defeat the purpose of block scheduling. But there are some classes we feel we need to look at to see how they are impacting instruction and student achievement.”

Board member Eddie Tomberlin asked for a time limit on addressing the issues with block scheduling.

“Time is of the essence,” Shearouse said, “because we’re starting to look at schedules for next year.”

The school system also has to look at how to incorporate the block scheduling into the new career academy, Arnsdorff said.