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Board OKs new FHS schedule

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Todd Karich expects Farmington High School's new schedule to create challenges when it's implemented next fall. But he also sees a lot of opportunities.

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The Farmington School Board approved the change to a five-period day and a three trimester year at its business meeting Monday. The high school will also offer a new Zero Hour before the start of the regular school day, though it's not clear yet exactly how that will be implemented.

Board members also approved moving the start of the high school day to 8:20 a.m. The school day will end at 3:05 p.m.

The change will mean longer class periods -- 64 minutes instead of 47. That offers some clear benefits for phys ed or science teachers, who often need to allow time for students to change clothes set up for lab experiments. But it also means teachers used to lecturing for the entire class period will have to find new ways to hold students' attention.

"If you've been teaching for 10, 15 years you may have to adjust the way you go about doing that," said Karich, a social studies teacher. "Maybe some of our younger teachers, because they haven't been teaching as long, this might be easier for them."

Karich doesn't expect any trouble making the transition in his own classroom. He expects to implement more filmstrips or videos, or to lean more heavily on the activities he uses to demonstrate the principles of economics or other topics.

Under the current schedule Karich often conducts an activity one day and discusses it the next. Next year he'll be able to do both on the same day.

"It will allow me to have a richer, deeper discussion based on those activities," Karich said.

"I think teaching is teaching regardless of whether we're doing it in 45-minute window or 65-minute windows."

A group of FHS teachers started talking about the new schedule last year. They brought their recommendation for the five-period day to the school board for the first time last June, but when new principal Ben Kusch came to the district in July he opened the door to some other possible schedules, most notably a six-period day that would have done away with the Zero Hour. Kusch's old school, Tartan High School, switched to that schedule this year and has been happy with it, he said.

Kusch said there are concerns with the five-period schedule and the gaps it can create in students' schedules -- at times forcing students to wait months between math classes. The schedule also can reduce by about 7 percent the amount of time students spend in math and science classes.

"When you look at the math and science scores it seems to me that we need more of it, not less of it," Kusch said.

Ultimately, though, Kusch decided the flexibility offered by the five-period schedule and its Zero Hour would open up enough new opportunities for students to make the schedule effective.

Just how that Zero Hour will work, though, is a little bit up in the air. There have been suggestions that students could use it for classes they can't otherwise fit into their schedule. Under the current schedule students sometimes end up taking sophomore-level physical education and health classes as seniors because they can't get them into their schedules any earlier.

There hasn't been much discussion yet on just what classes will be available or which students will be allowed to take a Zero Hour class. Kusch expects the program to start small.

That could ease the concerns of some parents who have worried the morning Zero Hour could undermine the benefits of the later start the school board approved Monday. The late start is a reaction to research that says teens need to go to bed later and get up later. But adding a Zero Hour before the start of the regular day could keep at least some students getting up early.

Kusch heard that concern from a number of parents but said he doesn't expect it to be an issue.

"You don't need to take a Zero Hour to graduate," he said. "You don't need a Zero Hour to get a great education from Farmington High School. The Zero Hour is something to increase opportunities."

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