Several years ago Leesburg High School changed its academic schedule from a block of four 90-minute classes every day to seven classes, each running 52 minutes.
At the time, the school was in the bottom 5 percent in the state, school officials said.
Since then, the high school has climbed out of the bottom tier, been removed from state supervision and is in the 45 percentile, according to Gabriel Fielder, band director at Leesburg High School.
Fielder said the change has brought marked change in the classroom.
“I feel the band is more successful, more rounded,” he said.
Now, the Lake County School District is preparing to implement the seven-class schedule across the district beginning in August.
While almost identical to Leesburg High’s schedule, the seven-class schedule implemented as part of Engage LCS — which enables the school district to redefine the school’s budget to focus on student achievement — would call for instructors to teach six classes out of seven as opposed to five now at Leesburg. Leesburg High will have to adjust to that change come August.
Several school officials said the change will result in more instructional time for students with classes being taught year round as opposed to four classes taught in the fall and a different set of classes in the spring. The change would also result in standardizing the bell schedule, which will make it easier to ensure students get to school on time and save the district $4.6 million, officials said.
But critics say there are legitimate concerns about the academic schedule. They point out it allows less time for teachers to do supervisory duties before and after school and the potential for specialized teachers to lose their jobs if they are not certified in another area. Officials expect 74 positions to be lost, mainly through attrition.
At the same time, several school board members are concerned about the loss of electives in some schools — something individual schools must determine.
David Christiansen, the district’s chief academic officer, said the instructional time would increase with the new schedule.
“You are talking about increasing the time per course dependent on the school by between 24 to 42 days,” he said. “When you are on a block and you miss a day it is like you are missing two days.”
School Board Member Tod Howard said he supported the change.
“We can go much deeper and do a better job of educating those students,” he said. “We can go in depth and I think that would be good for the students.”
Board Member Rosanne Brandeburg agreed, pointing to the difficulty of keeping students’ attention during a 90-minute period.
However, Howard expressed concern about the potential loss of positions as a result of the new schedule.
“I do see the problems with human resources. As somebody who knows how important teachers are to us, it is tragic for us to lose good employees,” he said.
Stuart Klatte, president of the Lake County Education Association, expressed similar concerns.
“With one less period (as opposed to a block schedule with eight periods a year) the teachers most likely to be cut are those teaching electives rather than the core classes,” he said. “The people teaching specialty areas or special electives potentially could have that problem. Their teaching certificate would not necessarily cover one of the positions where there is an opening.”
But Christiansen said while most positions would be absorbed through attrition, the district will make sure the other teachers are placed appropriately.
“They may not be at the same school,” he said. “We want to keep them in our system the best way we can.”
However, Christiansen said he could not guarantee that every position would be kept, especially for the 39 percent of teachers on annual contracts.
For example, he said if a teacher has a culinary arts certificate it does not mean they can’t teach other subjects.
With the number of credits students earn for graduation dropping to 28 from 32, students will have four opportunities to take electives compared with eight in a block schedule because they are required to have 24 core credits for graduation, Klatte said.
This would result in a reduction in electives offered, he added.