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New schedule proposed for Portland high schools

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New schedule proposed for Portland high schools

PORTLAND — The School Committee on Wednesday, Dec. 9, will get a first look at a new, unified schedule for the city's four high schools.

The proposed schedule would align school days at Portland, Deering, Casco Bay and Portland Arts and Technology high schools so the district can better share students and resources between schools.

Superintendent James C. Morse Sr. said school officials will collect feedback from the community throughout January and present a final draft to the School Committee on Feb. 24. 

Morse said the proposed schedule is a mix of existing schedules, which include a seven- to eight-period day with 45-minute periods and semester-based block schedules that meet for 70-80 minutes. 

The proposed schedule would include two, unified 75-minute blocks in the morning and the afternoon. Lunch would be scheduled from 12:40-1:25 p.m., leaving enough time for students and staff to travel between schools, if necessary. The bulk of the school day, consisting of three, 80-minute blocks, would vary from school to school.

Morse said the unified morning and afternoon blocks will allow the district to better use its resources. An estimated 12 under-enrolled courses could be combined at one school, Morse said.

"We think we can coordinate our schedule effectively so we can take advantage of a whole host of opportunities for kids," he said.

Morse said administrators are still fine-tuning when the school day would begin and end. The current proposal would have the morning block run from 7-8:15 a.m. and the afternoon block run from 1:25-2:40 p.m. 

Morse said he expects the afternoon block to be more popular than the morning block. Most students would begin their school day at 8:30 a.m., 15 minutes after the morning block. Currently, the school day starts at 7:45 a.m.

Morse said research suggests that a later start time will increase performance and make it easier for students who have night jobs to attend school.

"Research on teenagers is that they stay up late and need their sleep in the morning," Morse said. 

Relieving pressures on high school students who must work to help support their families has personal significance for Morse, who dropped out of high school for a short period of time. When he returned to school, Morse said he worked a full-time job from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. throughout his junior and senior years. 

"The idea of going to school at 7:30 a.m. just wasn't realistic at that point," he said. 

The new schedule was drafted by the High School Common Schedule Task Force, a group of 16-20 high school teachers, principals and parents. The goal was to produce a common schedule that maintained the district's course offerings, while reducing costs and increasing efficiencies. 

DHS Principal Ken Kunin said he can see no disadvantages to the proposed schedule. 

"There are really only advantages to coordinating our schedule and our efforts," Kunin said. "We are currently looking at ways for each school to maintain the uniqueness of how we work while coordinating certain blocks to enable sharing of resources."

CBHS Principal Derek Pierce said the new five-block schedule will allow more students to take advantage of music programs, advanced placement courses and classes for English Language Learners. 

"I am especially excited about the possibility of an extended day of academics for some of our neediest and hungriest learners," Pierce said.

The new schedule presented a particular challenge for PATHS, which serves students from 20 schools in the region. But Principal Dana Allen said he supports the proposed schedule.

"By adding an additional block to the day, students will have more options," Allen said. "Any major shift in times will require collaboration among those schools as well."

Morse said the process began with a bit of trepidation among principals, who, with the district's site-based management, have been given the latitude to create their own schedules. The individuality of each school, he said, evolved to the point where "equity came to mean duplication of programs, increased costs and little common programming." 

"Change is difficult," Morse said. "This is as big a change as you can make in terms of high schools."

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net