Bell Tolls

Bell Tolls

To accommodate 500 more students, South County Secondary School changes class schedule.

In November, South County Secondary School principal Dale Rumberger knew, eventually, something would have to be done.

During a School Board work session on Monday, March 13, Rumberger handed out a sheet of blue paper, outlining a proposed revised scheduled for South County Secondary School that would have middle school students starting their day at 9:20 a.m., instead of 7:30 a.m.

"There was a discussion about what to do about the impending increase in enrollment and I knew we had to do something," he said.

With an expected September 2006 enrollment of 3,000 students in a school built for 2,500 students, phrases like "boundary study," "modular classrooms," and other ways to possibly reduce the number of students began to swirl around the hallways, but Rumberger decided to revisit a concept he first considered in the late 1990s at another school.

However, after talking with the "most fantastic group of administrators and department chairs," Rumberger has devised a schedule that would create a nine-period school day, incorporating a remediation period in the middle of the morning and adding a lunch section while still allowing middle school students to participate in extra curricular activities.

SINCE A COPY of the revised schedule went home with students last week, Rumberger said the response from parents has been broken into three groups.

"About one-third of the parents say they wish we didn't have to make any changes at all; another third doesn't like the changes they'll have to make with their family patterns and the final third are OK with it," Rumberger said.

High school students will arrive at the same time but will be dismissed 10 minutes earlier in the fall, he said. They will have an additional lunch section which will reduce crowding in the cafeteria by "about 130 to 140 students in each lunch."

Changes to the schedule also allow for the faculty to "better utilize the specialized classrooms" like art rooms, music rooms and business labs, he said.

Students will have to leave the building after the end of their classes unless they have a specific teacher to work with or will be attending practice of some kind, Rumberger said, because "I'll still have 1,100 students in class after they finish. They're not going to be able to just hang out anymore."

MIDDLE SCHOOL students, who currently start their day at 7:20 a.m., will be arriving at the school between 8:55 a.m. and 9 a.m. and will start their classes at 9:20 a.m. From 10:20 a.m. until 11 a.m., a remediation period will be scheduled, followed by a class period from 11 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., when lunch will start.

The later start time will allow more students to sleep a little later and "eat a good, full breakfast," which should help them through the day, he said.

Students would be dismissed from school at 4:05 p.m. and extra curricular activities would begin at 4:15 p.m.

"There will be more group-oriented activities because all of the remediation will have been done earlier in the day, plus we'll be able to offer those activities four or five days a week because the buses will already be here," Rumberger said.

Some final adjustments may be made during the next few months, but Rumberger feels his students will be "getting a good deal out of" these changes.

Four more modular classrooms are slated to be installed at the school within the next few weeks, in addition to one that arrived a few weeks ago, he said.

"This seems to be a pretty efficient way to use space in the building," said Gary Chevalier, director of the Office of Facilities Planning for the school system.

Making changes to the building itself, by adding more classrooms or other accommodations for the students, could have cost about $4 million, Chevalier said. "By staggering the schedule, it helps us get two or three more classes in each day and has almost eliminated the need for building modifications."

WHILE THE CHANGE in the schedule is "a good solution," it is only temporary while the School Board contemplates what appears to be an inevitable boundary study, Chevalier said.

Changing the schedule "helps us with capacity infrastructure issues," said Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent for transportation and facilities. "There have been some challenges with the transportation and it'll cost a bit more in terms of driver time [to change the bus schedules], but it's not a huge cost operationally," he said.

It may cost an estimated $300,000 to implement the changes, from extra janitors to clean the building in a shorter amount of time to overlapping schedules for school resource officers, but Tistadt said it's an easier cost to swallow.

"This is something to do until we address the capacity issue further," he said.

Calling Rumberger "ambitious" in his quest to keep his school together, Cluster V Administrator Betsy Fenske said she is confident the revised schedule will help the students.

"If something like this is going to succeed, we have one of the best people there to make it happen," she said of Rumberger.

Although the School Board does not get involved with administrative changes, Board member Dan Storck (Mount Vernon) said he supports the proposal.

"Some parents might have additional challenges with this new schedule and I understand that, but in the short term this is a way to take advantage of the building and make sure the students still get an excellent education," he said.