Frederick schools considering change in four-block schedule

Four-block scheduling for all high schools has been in place since 1997, but changes to the schedules of Gov. Thomas Johnson and Catoctin high schools could be around the corner.

Staff members at Gov. Thomas Johnson have already agreed the school should add a 40-minute block of tutoring time into its school day, possibly as soon as spring semester, according to Principal Marlene Tarr.

By shaving 10 minutes off each course block, a 40-minute block can be added between second and third period to allow time for students to receive tutoring, make up tests, participate in Advanced Placement seminars and make appointments with the guidance office, Tarr said.

“This is not study hall,” she said.

School administrators are currently scheduling a date to meet with parents and community members to gather input before seeking approval, Tarr said.

“We’re hoping it will be something we’re able to launch,” she said.

Oakdale and Walkersville high schools already operate on the schedule Gov. Thomas Johnson is researching. Walkersville made the switch this fall; Oakdale opened with the schedule two years ago.

Catoctin High School is in the early stages of researching the pros and cons of altering its schedule to add a 40- minute block, said Ann Bonitatibus, associate superintendent for secondary schools.

Bonitatibus presented the Board of Education with a report on high school scheduling throughout the county in September; the board asked the PTA to solicit parents’ input.

A forum about high school scheduling is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the central office board room.

“I expect we’re going to hear the gamut,” said M.C. Keegan-Ayer, second vice president for the PTA Council of Frederick County.

Keegan-Ayer will moderate Wednesday’s discussion after Bonitatibus’ presentation about current scheduling at the high schools.

Middletown parent Janice Spiegel said she would not like to see time shaved off of her son’s class time to add the 40-minute block.

With her son taking AP courses, losing 10 minutes of class a day means a loss of 50 minutes by the end of the week, she said.

“It’s almost like losing a full class a week,” she said.

Following the success of a Gov. Thomas Johnson High School pilot block schedule during the 1992-93 school year, four more high schools transitioned from a traditional seven-block schedule to a four-block schedule in 1993-94.

Thomas Johnson’s pilot showed that student discipline referrals decreased, teacher attendance improved, there were positive perceptions by students and faculty, African-American student scores on Maryland functional tests improved, more students took AP courses, test scores improved and there was positive feedback from visitors, according to Bonitatibus’ Sept. 26 report to the board.

Of the 23 school districts in the state — excluding Baltimore city — six follow a traditional schedule, 14 follow a block or hybrid block schedule and three follow a combination.

The traditional high school schedule has students take six to eight yearlong courses. Each class runs 45 to 50 minutes per day.

The block scheduling format has students take four courses in the fall and four different courses in the spring. Classes run 80 to 90 minutes a day.

The hybrid block schedule has students taking four 80-minute courses per semester with a 35-minute block of student enrichment time where students can seek tutoring.

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