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Paring back is meant to boost instruction and may save money.
Published Apr. 10, 2014

Many Hernando County students will notice a big difference in their schedules starting next year: fewer periods.

The district's middle and high schools will offer only six instructional periods a day. Instead of having the opportunity to take 28 credits during their high school careers, students will take only 24 - the amount needed for a traditional diploma.

"It is streamlining what it is our students are taking," said curriculum supervisor Marcia Austin. "What we opted to do is offer more focus."

The change comes with pros and cons, but the discussion leading to the move has largely occurred within district offices and outside the public eye.

It has not come before the School Board and will not be voted on by the board, though it will be up for discussion at Tuesday afternoon's board workshop.

Board member John Sweeney said he looks forward to a thorough and transparent conversation.

"Many educators, including classroom teachers, music instructors and administrators, have shared concerns. Students are also up in arms," he said. "This concept is in its infancy, and is in no way, shape or form a done deal."

District officials say the change will provide more uniformity among schools, increase instructional time in the classroom and could save money. On the flip side, six-period days will reduce the number of electives students can take and could provide fewer opportunities to take credit-recovery classes during school hours.

Superintendent Lori Romano said the change is needed, given the district's current "C" grade from the state, providing more time for core instruction and to address any questions.

"District staff knew they needed to do something to increase instructional time," Romano said. "This is all about helping to improve the instructional process."

The schools that are moving to six-credit days will have longer class periods - 55 minutes or an hour, rather than 47 minutes - helping with student understanding, giving teachers more time to clear up misconceptions and reducing the need for later intervention, according to district documents. Adding 10 minutes to every period roughly equals about 30 additional hours of instructional time per class per year, Austin said.

Austin said the discussion started in earnest at the beginning of the school year in response to state funding changes and new standards. She said the district is only funded for six credits a day, and providing additional credits means less money per period.

Romano said it's too early to tell what impact the change would have on the number of teachers at schools or what the savings might be.

Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president Jo Ann Hartge said she is concerned with how the change might affect elective teachers, though she sees the benefits of six-period days.

West Hernando Middle School principal Carmine Rufa, one of the few administrators overseeing a school already on a six-period day, says the schedule works well because of the greater instructional time per period.

"We love it," Rufa said.

Nature Coast Technical High School principal Toni-Ann Noyes, whose school is also on that schedule, agreed.

"It's worked out well for us," Noyes said.

Aimee Whitehead, chairwoman of the Student Advisory Council at Springstead High, said she has doubts about moving to the new system.

She is worried about schools' ability to help students who have fallen behind and the impact of taking away electives.

"I do believe that it will take away ability to be competitive for college," she said.

She also is concerned that parents haven't been part of the discussion up to this point.

"I don't know if parents have been given the ability to digest what kind of impact this is going to have on their own child," she said.