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High schools to go to seven-period day for 2012-13
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High schools in Effingham County will be on a seven-period day schedule for the 2012-13 school year.

“We’ve heard that the mind was made up when this thing started,” said board member Mose Mock, a retired high school teacher who originally advocated for the block schedule, “and it was not. We studied hard. And it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

“… The bottom line is I do think it’s the only fair thing to do because it’s fair and balanced. It would be hard for us, I think, to go to the taxpayers and say ‘we’re going to have to raise $5 million in taxes’ without doing everything in our power to try to go and be conservative.”

The Effingham County Board of Education, after what board members described as painstaking deliberation, unanimously approved a recommendation from Superintendent Randy Shearouse to move from the 4x4 block schedule to the seven-period day. The measure was taken to help fill a potential $5 million revenue gap expected for fiscal year 2013.

The move is expected to reduce payroll expenses by 14 teaching positions between Effingham County and South Effingham high schools, which board members are hoping will save them approximately $980,000. If the faculty is reduced by 20 teachers, expected savings are $1.4 million.

“There are going to be other staffing changes and so forth that take place in the district,” said Shearouse. “This is just the first step in that. We’ve got a target of 30 positions district-wide, which will include all facets of the system.”

The board hopes to lose a majority of these needed positions through attrition and is encouraging teachers to become certified in other areas.

Shearouse also mentioned furlough days in the calendar next year as a step toward the $5 million savings. He also mentioned a tax increase in the county as a possible way to make revenues meet expenditures next year.

“By doing this (changing to a seven-period day and reducing staff), that lessens the amount that the school board would have to do in a tax increase for this next year,” he said.

Shearouse reiterated some of the themes he’s been heralding since early November about the benefits and costs of switching or not switching to the seven-period day. He said that with the reality of next year’s budget this step would be the best move to students and for the system.

“The district did study different models,” he said. “I had people scurrying, looking at every possible thing we could look at as far as alternatives and hybrid models, even looked at a trimester. They just didn’t really fit in with the needs that we had, as far as testing in the state, and they didn’t fit in with the needs we had as far as the Career Academy — we wanted to make sure our students had what they needed there.”

He said students would get three more weeks of instruction with the addition of testing days lost on the block schedule.

“A majority of classes are going to have more time in class than they have now,” Shearouse said.

Shearouse assured the school board that juniors will be able to take all the classes they need to graduate on time, although he admitted that they may have to prioritize those courses, such as foreign languages, over others, such as band.

“Students are still going to be prepared to enter either the workforce or college,” said Shearouse, adding that the district will phase in requiring 24 credits to graduate, one above the state requirements, as opposed to 28 on block.

He said this would fall in line with state requirements for students to move ahead in classes when ready and other new state initiatives.

He said the state recommends systems moving to a seven-period day. Right now, approximately half are on block and half are on six- or seven-period days.

Shearouse said they have worked out a schedule with the Effingham College and Career Academy as well.

“I really believe that what we’ve looked at with the Career Academy schedule is actually better than what we currently have,” he said, “just because of the times that the Career Academy would be meeting and for students being able to get to and from the academy.”

He said that textbook costs will increase, but that they can be paid for through education special purpose local option sales tax revenues, which are not included in the regular budget. He said “an effort would be made to minimize the loss of planning time for teachers” by allowing them to use substitute teachers again.

A public forum was held last month in the BoE auditorium to hear concerns from students, parents, teachers and citizens about the change.

“It is a change, so it’s not going to be exactly the same as we’ve had it on the 90-minute schedule,” Shearouse said. “But students will get used to it and teachers will get used to it. And I do believe that —faced with what we’re facing — changing this from block to a seven-period day is the right course of action to take. And I also believe, as you can see from a lot of the research, that students will not suffer academically at all.”