PAHS principal speaks about pros, cons of seven- vs. eight-period school days

PUNXSUTAWNEY — In light of recent discussions regarding changes to school scheduling, High School Principal David London spoke to the school board at its meeting Monday about some of the advantages and disadvantages of the seven-period school day versus the eight-period school day.

The original discussions came about as the board was mulling the possibility of a school closure, involving moving seventh grade to the high school and third grade to the middle school.

While the option of closure was ultimately bypassed by the board for this year, talks about the number of periods persisted.

The high school initially went to an eight-period schedule during the 2009-2010 school year, following the closure of Mary A. Wilson and the subsequent movement of eighth graders to PAHS.

"It would've been impossible to take the eighth grade to the high school without going from a seven-period day to an eight-period day," London said.

Using data from past years, operating on both a seven-period and an eight-period schedule, he compared and contrasted the two situations in order to advise the board on future action.

The 2008-2009 school year was the last one to use the seven-period schedule. At that time, the school day began and ended at 8:05 a.m. and 2:57 p.m. respectively. The basic period lasted 43 minutes, exceptions being the first, given 48 minutes to facilitate the morning announcements, and the activity period, which ran for 44. Each student also had a lunch period.

The total instructional time — which does not include lunch period or the breaks between classes — came up to 350 minutes.

Under an eight-period schedule, students are at school from 7:45 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. — an increase in the total amount of time spent in school.

The basic period became 40 minutes, with 43 for the first and 41 for the last in order to allow for the afternoon announcements. Lunch was half an hour for all students. However, the activity period was reduced to 40 minutes. The time between classes also increased slightly.

The total instructional time for the entire school day was 364 minutes — a 14-minute increase from the original 350.

However, the per-period instructional time actually decreased.

Overall, students gained 42 more hours per year of general instructional time, but lost 9 hours of per-period instructional time.

On the advantages and disadvantages of that system, London said,"I like the eight-period schedule a lot more because of the flexibility that's in it and because of some of the things it does for students."

Among those things is a broadened credits opportunity for students. Under a seven-period schedule, the average course load for students was 5.25 credits. Under the new eight-period schedule, however, the average is 6.5.

The eight-period schedule, London said, opens up opportunities for kids to take another class. It also allowed some classes to expand and gain credit worth. For example, a math lab has been added in addition to more science labs and extra physical education sessions per week.

An eighth period was added as a flex period students could use any way they wanted, whether it was for extra classes, extracurricular activities, study halls, etc.

"It's definitely made it easier to put more flexibility and more available space into the schedule," London said.

He also said that, should discussions regarding moving the seventh graders into the high school be reprised, the eight-period schedule would need to be maintained.

"The eight-period day is the only chance to foster a seventh grade move to PAHS ... There's absolutely no way you could go to the seven-period schedule and mathematically bring the seventh grade to the high school," London said.

He said that the eight-period schedule has been better for the music, elective, work release and dual enrollment programs. He added that the flex period has been "better for students," as a lot of them work after school or are otherwise involved in additional extracurricular activities and therefore stand to benefit from the extra time in school to complete their work. It also creates more time for make-up work, PSSAs, Keystone remediation, learning support, academic support and others.

As a part of the new schedule, the school has also moved to a six-day cycle, increasing physical education, science labs and safety education classes to 90 classes a year rather than the previous 72.

"It is accurate that you're losing three minutes a day per class, and I understand the argument is, 'Well, those students are losing 14 class periods over the course of a year,'" Superintendent Dr. Keith Wolfe said. "However, students who need that extra help ... are getting that extra time, but we're also able to maintain with eight periods options for students that are academically sound."

London added, "I think it's made things easier on students."

Additionally, the eight grade curriculum currently has 7 of 8 periods filled. Moving back to a seven-period schedule would require those students to be in a class throughout the entire day.

One potential drawback that London mentioned was that students were completing their graduation requirements a bit earlier. However, he said it opens up opportunities for work release, dual enrollment, taking an additional class or other related extracurriculars and electives. So far, he said, the numbers indicate that most students are taking advantage of this.

On the faculty end, teachers have maintained their load of no more than six classes, regardless of what schedule is used. The teachers are allotted a 7.5-hour work day with a 30-minute lunch. None of these things changed under the new schedule.

However, they are now starting and finishing earlier and losing a lot of professional development time — time used for staff meetings, trainings, grading, lesson plan formation, parent-teacher conferences, etc. — as a result.

However, there is a trade-off. Where originally teachers taught 6 out of 7 periods with one prep period, they now take 6 out of 8, prep period included. Now, they have an extra duty period, whether it's cafeteria/study hall supervision, work with online classes, learning support work, etc. That time could also be used to get extra work done, in addition to the prep period. It also leaves two flexible times during the day to work with students.

"The advantage of that was we had more available time where teachers were free to work with students, and we actually gained a little bit of time for teachers to get some things done," London said.

Overall, total instructional time under an eight-period schedule would increase from 307 to 324 minutes, provided teachers use one period to focus on students.

However, the instructional time does go down if that period is used to supervise a study hall or a lunch.
On the whole, London said, "The new model ... gave us more opportunities to involve teachers in duties, which overall is better for our school climate, and it creates available time for students to get with teachers if they have things they need to work on.

Board President Gary Conrad said, "You do lose, but you do gain. Both are right, and both are wrong."

The board did not take any action regarding school schedules for the immediate future.