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  1. Hernando

Hernando County high-schoolers can get reduced schedules during their senior year. Is it worth it?

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Hernando County School District 919 N Broad St., Brooksville
Published Jul. 16

BROOKSVILLE — A Hernando County School District policy that allows some high-school seniors to attend class only part of the day could get a second look soon. Some School Board members wonder whether its value outweighs the funding it costs the district.

The district's student progression plan allows seniors to take reduced schedules if they're on track to have all their credits required for graduation faster than their peers. They also must have passed a test for an accelerated course — Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge program — or earned an industry certification in a career and technical education course. The students also must have a 2.0 or better grade-point average, have met state testing requirements and have a 90 percent attendance rate during their junior year.

It's a separate option from dual-enrollment programs for college credit or early-graduation tracks. Students granted reduced schedules graduate with their cohort, but may attend only a class or two at the beginning and end of the school day. In their extra time, they might work a part-time job, focus on college applications or attend college classes via an early-admission program. The progression plan doesn't stipulate how students spend their time.

Students on a typical graduation path earn six credits each year of high school, adding up to the district's 24-credit graduation requirement. Some students might get ahead on credits, though. Some advanced middle-school classes, such as high-school-level math, count for high school credit, for example. That gives students the flexibility needed for the reduced-schedule option.

At a School Board meeting in June, the board reviewed an updated progression plan with amended requirements for reduced schedules. Board members briefly discussed a new state law requiring districts to offer vocational education paths that could graduate students in three years. They wondered how that pathway may affect state funding based on student enrollment.

Board chair Susan Duval asked similar questions about reduced schedules. District staff members told Duval that reduced schedules were a district option and not state-mandated.

"This is something I would like to explore then," Duval said. "If we don't have to offer reduced schedules, I would like to know."

Student funding from the state is based on the number of full-time equivalent students in the district, not on simple enrollment. For grades four and above, the state defines 900 hours of instruction in a year as full-time. So if a student isn't getting that much instruction, the district gets only partial funding for that student.

Meanwhile, as the district faces ever-increasing demands from the state — especially in the safety and security realm — it's already looking at ways to increase revenue, including a possible tax-increase proposal.

It's unclear how much money the reduced-schedule policy could be costing the district. In last month's board meeting, superintendent John Stratton said a recent count showed that reduced schedules added up to hundreds of class periods that students didn't have to attend.

In an interview, Duval noted that there are myriad arguments for and against reduced schedules.

"You have students who maybe attend a school where there's not as many dual-enrollment classes," she said. "If their schedule is reduced, they may be able to pick up a class at one of Pasco Hernando (State College)'s campuses. Some kids, working is important ... On the other hand, keeping the kids in school, we're able to offer more electives to them, not at the expense of an academic class or an advanced academic class."

Danielle Kraus took a reduced schedule during her senior year at Nature Coast Technical High School, where she graduated in 2016. Soon to be a senior at the University of Central Florida, she said having a different schedule prepared her for the transition into college, where she wouldn't have the same class hours every day or have parents pushing her to wake up and get to school on time. It also freed her up to work different hours in her job at Target, where she said her bosses liked that she had more availability than a chunk of after-school time.

She thinks many of her peers had similarly positive experiences with reduced schedules.

"I think a lot of us did," said Kraus, now 21, "because if you didn't need the classes, why would you take them?"

Contact Jack Evans at jevans@tampabay.com. Follow @JackHEvans.

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