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Hillsborough middle schools moving toward a seven-period day

TAMPA — Some teachers might not be thrilled about it, but Hillsborough County middle schools will likely switch from six daily periods to seven this fall.

Officials said the changes, which were enacted two years ago at the high school level, would allow students to take more elective classes. They could also save the district $10 million compared with the cost of hiring more teachers by August to meet the state's class-size amendment.

"This was driven by kids and what they need," said superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

But union officials said teachers are likely to see heavier workloads — more class preparation time, or more students and paperwork — and plan to bring that up during contract negotiations.

At a School Board workshop Tuesday, the district stressed the benefits for students in moving from six 60-minute periods per day to seven periods of 50 minutes each.

Right now, students who are forced into remedial classes due to low scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test often can't take elective classes such as music or art, said Josie Sanders, general director for middle school education.

"The remedial kids really were being disenfranchised," said board member Jack Lamb.

With the change, teachers who are now teaching five periods a day would teach six. But their total number of teaching minutes would remain at 300, making it unnecessary to renegotiate the district's contract with teachers, officials said.

Some teachers might be concerned at the prospect of teaching an additional class period, Elia said. But doing so will make it possible for all students to take the full range of course offerings, from agricultural sciences to band and Spanish.

"This is a great scheduling model for all kids," said principal Maribeth Franklin, who piloted the change last fall at Barrington Middle School. "I think it's been great for all of my kids on campus."

Those benefits didn't stop 200 union representatives from voting unanimously against the changes at a meeting last week, said Nick Whitman, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers' Association.

He said the district was likely within its rights to make the changes without negotiating.

"But what they do need to negotiate with us on is the impact of this," he said.

For example, English or special-needs teachers might see more students and therefore get more paperwork. Such changes in working conditions would require concessions from the district, he said.

Cash-strapped districts across Florida are searching for ways to meet the final phase of the 2002 class-size amendment. By August, they must comply with firm limits of 18 students per teacher at the elementary level, 22 students in middle school and 25 in high school.

Hillsborough is already facing the prospect of possibly changing some school boundaries in order to comply with the law. If it didn't change the middle school schedule, the district would also have to hire more teachers in core academic subjects, said deputy superintendent Ken Otero.

And if an elective that once enrolled 12 students now enrolls 25, it's less likely to be eliminated due to budget cuts.

"For the elective teachers, it keeps their job," Otero said.

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3400.

Hillsborough middle schools moving toward a seven-period day 01/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 19, 2010 11:12pm]
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