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FHS may be zeroing in on new schedule

Ben Kusch is narrowing in on a decision about what Farmington High School students' days will look like starting next fall.

Kusch, who took over as FHS principal in July, jumped into the middle of a teacher-led process to figure out whether the current seven-period, two semester schedule is the best option for the school as it moves into a new building. In June a group of teachers proposed a schedule that would include five class periods and three trimesters, as well as an optional Zero Hour before the official start of school.

FHS students could use the Zero Hour to take elective classes they would not otherwise fit into their schedule or to get help in subjects where they are struggling.

That five-period schedule is still an option, but Kusch said he is still weighing its benefits and drawbacks. He's also considering a six-period, three trimester schedule. That schedule could also include a Zero Hour.

Last week Kusch told a group of about 10 parents he plans to figure out within the next two weeks which schedule is best for Farmington.

Kusch has not ruled out sticking with the current schedule, but he said the so-called two-by-seven day has its problems. The 47-minute classes cause problems for science teachers who want to set up an involved lab experiment or for physical education teachers who need to give students time to change into and out of gym clothes. Kusch places at least some of the blame for the school's struggles on state assessment tests on the schedule.

"I know that what we're doing is not working," he told parents last week. "As we compare ourselves to other districts with similar populations we have some work to do."

Parent Theresa Wolfe complained last week that the current schedule forces students who want to take band to put off physical education classes until their senior year.

"If we're going to stay where we are we need to fix that problem," she said at last week's meeting.

Kusch told parents last week that even if the school sticks with its two-by-seven schedule there will be some changes.

The other proposed schedules have some benefits -- longer class periods, and, because of the trimester structure, more opportunities to help students who are struggling -- but they have drawbacks of their own.

If FHS converts classes that currently last a semester to a single trimester students would lose several days of instruction. Kusch said there would be about 20 percent less "seat time" in some classes. Five- and six-period days also can make it difficult for students to schedule the electives they want and can sometimes force long gaps between, for example, math classes. Kusch gave an example in which a student took math classes the first two trimesters of one year, then didn't have a chance to take another math class until the second trimester of the following year. That's a lot of time for a student to forget their sines and cosines.

The problem, it seems, is that each schedule has things to recommend it but none serves everybody equally well. The trick is to find a way to serve not just the students who are excelling and the students who are struggling but the vast middle ground of students who come into high school unsure where they want to be when they're done. Kusch is looking for a schedule that provides students opportunities to test themselves but also lets students find themselves.

"It's a reflection of the values of an organization and of a community and I think the most fundamental challenge for me is I just have not been in the community that long," Kusch said.

That's what last week's parent meeting was about and it's what Kusch has been trying to figure out in meetings with FHS teachers and other district staff. He said he needs to make a decision in the next week or two so staff can start scheduling classes for the 2009-10 school year.