Superintendent speaks out against proposed school schedule change

By Sylvia Hall – bio | email

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Lawmakers are debating whether to require public schools to wait until Labor Day to begin each school year.  Despite little support from educators, a bill including the legislation passed in the House Monday, but was then held for further debate.  Pascagoula Superintendent Wayne Rodolfich is speaking up against the plan.

Ashley Ulrich teaches four classes per day, for 90 minutes each.

"Meeting with your students for 90 minutes every day gives you time to build relationships," Ulrich said.  "I think that's a key component as a teacher and an educator."

But Superintendent Rodolfich worries a statewide proposal to push the start of school past Labor Day would put those 90 minutes in jeopardy.

"You only have X number of days under the current testing contract to get your seat time in for tests that are administered at the high school level.  And you have to maximize that time," said Rodolfich.  "This bill can force people into the seven period a day schedules."

The Pascagoula School District currently operates on a block schedule, giving each student the opportunity to earn eight credits each year.

"Right now we're on a block schedule, students are in classes for 90 minutes a day, they're in four classes a day, and they complete a year's worth of curriculum in a semester," Ulrich explained.  "If we potentially had to change, we could go to a schedule where we were on a seven class rotation, and then students are in those classes for 45-50 minutes.  So it would change a lot of the how our school day runs and how much material students are being given a day."

Rodolfich worries high achieving students may lose their chance to take advanced classes and receive advanced degrees.  He also worries about those heavily involved in electives such as the arts or vo-tech training.

"We currently have the opportunity through the block schedule for students to have a 90 minute period where they're in band, where they're able to get an opportunity to thrive in those areas, and they're also taking the core courses through the school year.  But they get to practice those specialty areas which help get kids scholarships," Rodolfich said.

"The other area we have is our workforce development programs and vocational centers, and because we share one applied technology center, we have to have transportation time for children to able to reach this center.  If you're forced into a seven period day, you would have to use two periods to transport them over here, and that would diminish the number of electives they could take during the school year."

Rodolfich wrote a letter to WLOX and other media outlets further explaining his position. (Click here to read the full text.)

"That's just not acceptable for school districts that are on a block schedule," Rodolfich said.  "Because we have so many opportunities for students built within the current schedule."

Rodolfich said nearly 90 percent of the teachers he polled said they did not want to see a mandated school year schedule change.  Ulrich is one of those teachers.

"I think it should not happen," Ulrich said.  "I think the way that our school runs right now works very well and I think we should be allowed to keep it that way if that's what we choose as a district."

A study released by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council's Research Foundation outlines some of the possible economic benefits of pushing back the first day of school.  They include a profound increase in tourism dollars during late summer months and possible decrease in utility costs for school districts.  The study also cites little evidence that starting a school year early impacts standardized test scores.  The business council's report says the organization doesn't endorse mandating that all schools start after Labor Day. Instead, it suggests that the state take a serious look at this measure as a possibility. (Click here to read the full report.)

Rodolfich said he hopes the opinions of educators will be weighed heavily in that discussion.

"I think whenever you have a representative government, that's the whole point of it, is so that everyone comes to the table and has a voice," Rodolfich said.  "And right now in education, we don't feel like we have much of a voice."

"I think because educators are the ones that are in the classroom and the ones that are with the students day by day, and I think at least our opinion and our voice should count on what we're doing with those students," said Ulrich.

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