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Middle school pilot program offers easier way to sign up for classes

HOLIDAY

Paul R. Smith Middle School abandoned written forms in triplicate for student course registration this year, adopting a computerized format instead.

Students couldn't be more pleased.

"It's a lot better," said Nick Nicolazzi, an eighth-grader in the fall, after quickly choosing his electives and printing out his fluorescent pink confirmation papers. "There's usually one person at a table, and it takes 10 minutes for one person to pick."

This year, Nick didn't have to wait. He finished in five minutes along with dozens of other students in the school computer lab.

"I like it a whole lot better," said Gina Calta, who also enters eighth grade in August. "It's easier. If you make a mistake you can just erase it. … It's a lot faster also."

Paul R. Smith administrators chose to be the guinea pig among Pasco's middle schools for the online registration model, which is based on a high school program, in hopes of finding a more effective and efficient way to create class schedules for their 1,030 students. They likened it to moving from a card catalog to a database — a move libraries made long ago.

With the change, student course preferences should be more easily catalogued and tallied, helping to determine how many sections of each are needed and how many instructors will be required. Assistant principal Dave Middleton looked forward to seeing his time spent creating a master schedule for teachers and students dramatically reduced.

The collected data also should help the staff ensure class size compliance more easily, principal Chris Dunning said. The computers also store information on which students need to complete physical education waivers to take other courses. And they reduce the school's paper consumption.

All these efficiencies are key to running the school, Dunning said, as well as to finding savings however small at a time when every penny matters.

"As you're looking at the budget, we'll be able to know how many kids want to take this class or that class," helping to see what the school can eliminate, he noted.

In leading students through registration, guidance counselor Leslie Wood reminded them to submit alternate selections for electives.

"They may fill up too quickly," Wood explained. "If the classes are not available to you, we are going to have to look at your other choices. So don't pick the same two that you already picked."

Gina had advanced band, culinary arts and health for her top choices, with concert band and business-technology as her alternates.

"There's no guarantee," she acknowledged, adding that she really didn't want the second choices. "I would prefer the other two."

Nick, meanwhile, put "random" for one of his alternatives, saying if he can't get a full year of physical education, "It doesn't matter" what he gets instead.

A few students simply put the same courses again, saying they either didn't understand the directions or didn't care.

With paper cards, they might have posed a problem. But not with the computerized system.

The database will flag the inconsistencies for when the staff reviews everything.

As if on cue, Middleton approached one girl to ask her about her repeated elective selections, while those who had filled out the forms correctly headed out to lunch.

If successful, the online registration, which did not cost the district anything except staff time to develop, is likely to be adopted by the rest of the county's middle schools. The district's middle school advisory team is monitoring the progress.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614.

Middle school pilot program offers easier way to sign up for classes 04/29/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 29, 2011 8:30pm]
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