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Gibbs to extend school day to deal with sagging academic performance

ST. PETERSBURG — Academically troubled Gibbs High School could have longer school days as soon as next week, making it the first Pinellas County public school to use extended hours to help raise student performance.

Principal Kevin Gordon called parents Tuesday night to notify them in a recorded message that students could be attending class for 35 minutes longer per day starting Wednesday.

"This is tentative," Gordon's message said. "It's not sketched in stone, as we're still working with the teachers bargaining unit to solidify a lot of information."

The school district began bargaining the proposal at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday and negotiations will continue today. One of the issues: how Gibbs' teachers will be paid for the extra time.

Steve Swartzel, the district's lead negotiator, on Wednesday offered a $1,000 supplement to teachers at Gibbs that also is being offered to teachers at Lakewood, Boca Ciega and Dixie Hollins high schools — schools that have been identified by the state as needing additional state oversight due to poor student test scores. Often called "combat pay," it serves as an acknowledgment that working in such a school requires additional time and work.

Union officials said they wanted to discuss it further during today's bargaining session.

Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, said that the organization will support the Gibbs plan for now as a matter of necessity, but a more substantial transformation is needed as the district plans for 2011-12.

"We're not accepting this as a standard for the future," he said.

Union president Kim Black said she was surprised to hear that the school sent word out to parents before teachers had the plan in their hands.

"I think it's a little premature because there's tremendous impact of changing a schedule of this nature," Black said during the bargaining session.

Gordon hesitated to circulate a hard copy of the proposed schedule, he said, because it hadn't been finalized, but said that he did include faculty on the automated voice message Tuesday.

"I can't leave my parents just hanging," he said.

School officials are eager to have the plan in place by Wednesday because it will allow students just enough time to gain credit for an additional class.

Gibbs, which was named an F-rated school following the 2008-09 school year, slipped onto the state Department of Education's list of schools in "intervene" status due to poor gains in student test scores over five years.

Under the initial plan:

• Students will attend eight classes instead of seven. They will move to a modified block schedule that calls for four 95-minute classes a day on every day but Wednesdays, when the district releases students an hour early.

• On Mondays and Thursdays, students would attend their odd-numbered periods. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they would attend the even.

• The new "eighth" period would be a designated "focus period" during which students would attend classes for Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test help, credit recovery, college placement and dual enrollment, electives, peer tutoring and mentoring, or ACT and SAT prep, depending on their needs.

• School would continue to begin at 7:05 a.m., with a projected dismissal time of 2:25 p.m. instead of 1:50 p.m.

• Teachers would have a daily planning period at the starting at 2:25 p.m., plus an additional 95-minute planning period two other days of the week.

Union officials aren't satisfied the planning time meets all teachers' needs and plan to discuss that more. Still, Gibbs teacher Diana DeVore said she's glad to see a plan finally come to fruition after weeks of discussion and speculation.

Gibbs to extend school day to deal with sagging academic performance 09/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 10:58pm]
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