By Joel Hall
In order to give high school students more time to pursue the arts, and meet new academic requirements, the Clayton County Board of Education (BOE) wants to extend the length of the school day.
The change would change the Clayton County high school schedule from a six-period, to a seven-period schedule.
The idea emerged after a team of principals, teachers, and staff members came together to find a way to help students meet a recent mandate requiring students to have 23 classroom credits to graduate, said Kay Sledge, the school system's chief academic officer. Currently, the six-period schedule allows students to earn only 24 credits before they graduate.
The new schedule would give students the ability to earn 28 credits during their high school career, time which could be used to make students more well-rounded, Sledge said.
"Students entering the ninth-grade for the first time this school year, 2008-2009, are required to earn 23 credits, or units for graduation," said Sledge. "We met extensively to explore alternate ways to schedule our high school students. We want to offer them more opportunities.
"We sought ways for them to be more involved in the fine arts, in the band, in chorus, orchestra, drama, theater, dance," Sledge continued. "We also want students who have failed to meet the minimum requirements ,or criteria requirements for a required class, to also have the opportunity for remediation during the school day."
Currently, Clayton high school students start school at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m. They also get a 15-minute homeroom period, a 30-minute lunch, 50-minute classes, and five-minute transitions between classes. The new schedule would shave 10 minutes off homeroom time, allow for an additional period for lunch, and extend the school day for an extra 10 minutes. In addition to having another period for study, students and teachers will still have 30 minutes to eat. Longer transitions between lunch periods will allow cafeteria staff more time to prepare for incoming student groups, according to Sledge.
"What's really nice about this schedule is that it does not interfere in any way with our elementary or middle school scheduling," said Sledge. "The only difference is that it extends the high school day by 10 minutes."
Jessie Goree, District 3 school board member, hoped the extended day would provide students more opportunities for community service. She said colleges are starting to request community service experience in their applications.
"I think that our students need to have a service requirement," said Goree. "When students apply for college, there are often questions about what community service have they done. That would be a good opportunity for students who don't need so many credits to do some mentoring."
Mary Baker, District 6 school board member, supported the extended school day, but expressed concern about students having enough time to eat.
"I see that we have 30 minutes dedicated to lunch," said Baker. "In actuality, at my daughter's school, it's 22 minutes. She takes lunch every day because she can't wait 10 or 15 minutes everyday to get through a lunch line.
"I want to see [the 30 minute lunch] enforced," added Baker. "When you're trying to cram your food down your throat in 10 minutes ... we're not doing our students any good."
In addition to discussing an extended day for high school students, the board discussed what it plans to do with an unexpected surplus.
When the BOE put together its annual budget last year, the BOE expected to have $40 million left over at the end of the year. However, due to higher-than-expected revenue from property value receipts and car rental taxes, the BOE came away with $55.9 million, according to Charles White, spokesperson for the BOE.
In Monday's work session, the BOE discussed spending $5 million of the surplus to replace money lost during statewide education cutbacks, $2.9 million to support special education programs, $200,000 to establish director of internal audit and P-Card administrator positions, as suggested by a recent forensic audit, and $245,000 to settle litigation.
Neither John Thompson, superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools, nor Julie Lewis, general counsel for the school board, would discuss the litigation, citing board policy as the reason.
White said while the surplus was unexpected, the school board will continue to be conservative in the coming fiscal year.
"We're not taking any of this for granted," said White. "Some day, those rental cars are going to be gone. We are going to be very austere with how we prepare our next budget."