LACONIA – High School Principal Jim McCollum recommended Freshman and Sophomore Academies to the School Board that would eliminate block scheduling for students in those grades.
McCollum and Academic Coordinator Steve Tucker told the board Tuesday evening that the transition from eighth grade to freshman year represents one of the most fragile times in a child's education.
"(Freshman year) is a strong determiner of how well a student does," he said.
McCollum's approach takes the whole child into consideration – academically and emotionally.
Students in eighth grade at the Middle School are largely confined to one floor with students who are the same age and known to them.
"When they hit Laconia (High School) they're thrown in to the mix," he said, noting that some electives have students from all grades in them and some freshmen can be somewhat intimidated.
Ninth graders, said McCollum, are more likely to disengage in large schools, they have more disciplinary problems, and, for those who struggle, they are the most likely not to finish high school.
"Kids tell us they need more structure," he said.
Academically, the key need for a Freshman and Sophomore Academy, said McCollum, is teaching math and English 60 minutes a day for four consecutive semesters. He said one of the things he's learned as as administrator with block scheduling in early high school grades was that there is the possibility that a student could take math in the first semester of his or her freshman year and not take it again until the second semester of their sophomore year.
He said students need consistency in math as they, like most people, will forget the skills they've learned if they're not used for a year.
McCollum said the seven-period schedule includes the four key areas – math, science, English and social studies — for the first four periods for 60 minutes a day.
The students would get a 25-minute lunch break, and a 35-minute academic support time for student to meet with teachers and get extra help in the need it.
The final 90 minutes of the day is for electives, which may be 45-minute courses or 90- minute courses depending on the elective.
He said this time gives students time for learning a foreign language, taking band, art, music and attending a mandatory physical education and health and welfare programs.
School Board members had a lot of questions ranging from how the credits will be earned to how some students would be able to take classes at the Huot Technical Center.
There was also some concern that the children wouldn't have access to certain classes because of when they are offered during the day and scheduling conflicts.
Chair Joe Cormier said he and the other board members would need some time to consider what they heard and would like the McCollum and Tucker to return to the board with more detailed plans.
Superintendent Terri Forsten said the plan presented to the board on Tuesday was complete, but she said the board should have another opportunity to ask questions before a final decision is made.
If the board agrees, the administration will work on the finishing touched and program development in 2015-2016 with implementation in school year 2016-2017.