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Cairo High School faculty makes push to go back on block schedule

The Cairo High School administration and faculty are making a push to return to a 4×4 block schedule that the school operated under until five years ago when the school went to a seven period day.
Assistant Principal and College and Career Academy Director Todd Gainous and Instructional Coordinator Tammy Donalson presented the proposal to the school board Tuesday night.
“The way we are doing business now is not getting it done. We are focused on student achievement and growth. There will be a million questions about this and a million different stances, but we want to give you an overview of our thought process,” Gainous said.
He told the school board that the ultimate goal is to have every CHS graduate ready to go on to college or technical college or enter the workforce on day one and be prepared to succeed.
Gainous said that the CHS faculty will need extensive training to make the shift from a 52 minute class to 90 minute classes, but he said that the faculty is committed to doing whatever necessary to make the change.
“This is not about a vision to reform. We’re not just talking about changing a name, but to actually transform our school,” Mrs. Donalson said.
“With 90 minutes allowed for instruction courses can be taught in depth and not just cover the material. It will allow students to dig deep and deeper understanding leads to retention. It will also allow teachers the opportunity to get to know students better,” she said.
Mrs. Donalson said that some critics have already begun to banter about claims that teachers want to change because they will have fewer students to teach and more planning time.
According to the instructional coordinator, teachers will have the same number of students, just broken into two segments.
With the block schedule she said students will have the opportunity to take more fine arts classes or CTAE classes that students currently do not have the opportunity to take.
Mrs. Donalson said that the 90 minute classes are more in line with college courses and local colleges would be more likely to offer dual enrollment classes on the CHS campus.
School officials say that as part of the high school’s charter the school is required to increase dual enrollment, however, they also say they want to keep the student leadership on campus by being able to offer the dual enrollment classes on campus as opposed to students leaving the CHS campus to attend classes at Southwest Georgia Technical College or Thomas University.
The instructional coordinator also said that a block schedule allows for more lab classes than can be accommodated with the seven period day.
By giving students more opportunities to take CTAE courses Gainous pointed out that the school system earns 20 percent more state funding per student for full-time equivalents in CTAE courses compared to general education courses.
Gainous also predicts the school system will save on the cost of textbook replacement by shifting to a block schedule.
The assistant principal said that in a straw vote of the CHS faculty 87 percent supported the change and in a second vote, which was secret ballot, 92 percent voted in favor making the change.
The charter school governing board has also voted in support of the change and that board’s chairman, Joyce Halstead of Southwest Georgia Technical College was present for the school board meeting Tuesday night.
Gainous also said that CHS discipline records indicate lower incidents of discipline issues when the school was under block scheduling. The school official said less interaction during the changing of classes is the only reason for the drop in discipline referrals.
“I would say 99 percent of our fights are during the change of class,” Gainous said.
The CTAE director encouraged the board to support the wishes of the CHS faculty. He said to do so would boost teacher morale. According to Gainous, when the school came off the block schedule five years ago the faculty was opposed to the change, but the board made the decision to shift to a seven period day.
“We’re not asking for any action tonight,” Gainous said, but the CHS team said they were hopeful the board would make a decision at its February meeting. If approved, the change would be implemented for the 2015-2016 school term.
Gainous announced that the school planned to host some parent/community information sessions where the school could present its plan and hear and address concerns and comments from parents.
Board chairman Teresa Ge Harris complimented Gainous for his presentation, but took issue with some of the statements he had made.
“Go back and review. The board did not arbitrarily force the school to change it. There were some good reasons for making the change. It had to do with student achievement,” the chairman said.
Ms. Harris also recommended Gainous put the emphasis on the advantages to the students and not just the teachers.
“I love our teachers and I support them, but our students come first. Your presentation emphasized teachers,” she said.
The board chair also questioned the alleged drop in students taking CTAE courses when the school came off the block schedule. “Could that have more to do with what CTAE courses were being taught?” Ms. Harris asked.
The school board chairman also questioned the need to rush this decision and implement it this summer. “When you rush a decision you can make mistakes. That’s where I am on this tonight,” she added.
Board member Jeff Worsham said he had already begun to receive comments about the proposed change from parents who have had children in school under both schedules.
“What you will encounter is parents who say that in that 90 minute period there may have been only 40-45 minutes of instruction. I wouldn’t think that was the case but it will be an issue you will have to address,” Worsham said.
Superintendent Lee M. Bailey shared with the CHS administration a multiple page document with questions and concerns about the change, which Gainous said the school had responded to and would be presenting to the superintendent this week.
The superintendent told The Cairo Messenger that there are pros and cons to both schedules and by raising questions he was not necessarily opposed to the change. “I just want to really think this out and look at it from all sides before we make a decision,” Superintendent Bailey said.
The dates of the informational meetings for parents and community members had not been set as of Messenger presstime Wednesday. See next week’s issue of The Messenger for meeting times, dates and locations.

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