Academic life will change for students at Indiana Area Senior High School over the next two years.
A 10-period daily class schedule, intense remediation for students who fail standard tests and the chance for juniors to go to college are just a few.
The school board of directors on Monday ratified a series of recommendations brought by high school Principal Wade McElheny and the board’s Academic Committee.
McElheny said the change is driven in part by the expected retirements of 25 teachers for the 2014-15 school year and the district’s ongoing need to absorb some of those positions — probably 12 of them — to meet budget constraints.
The lunch break would be counted as one of the extra periods rather than a part of an extended midday class period, and the last period of the day would be reserved for remedial classes and activities that don’t fit into the remainder of the schedule. Teachers would still have one prep period each day.
Dividing the 8-hour education day into 10 periods came with acknowledgment that it wouldn’t be met with universal favor in the district. It would take effect in the fall.
“It has its pros and cons,” said Acting Superintendent Dale Kirsch. “Right now, teachers teach six periods of an eight-period day and it could be seven periods out of a 10-period day. It doesn’t sound like a big difference but potentially it’s one extra class … and it’s a balance between quality, quantity and cost.
Taking all those into account, we think the 10-period day is a way for us to maintain some of our electives if we have a reduction in staff.”
At 39 minutes a period, the class day would be 10 minutes longer, Kirsch said.
“We could modify that for next year and shorten the last period … the current program can be fit into the 10-period day with the last one at 30 minutes. But if we have the staff reduction, we would need to have the full period in 2014-15.”
The teachers union has mixed response to the move, said Mike Tshudy, president of Indiana Area Education Association.
“IAEA supports the idea of a 10-period day due to the merits of increased remediation time and avoiding conflicts with early dismissals for sports,” he told the board. “However, this support is contingent on the 10th or final period being a 30-minute period at the end of the day.
“Extending the student time in the school decreases the amount of time at the end of the work day that already is overfilled with (various) meetings and the increasing paperwork and email responsibilities that we face. Secondly, an additional 39-period at the end of the day could prove an attractive target … to extend the teaching to seven instructional periods in a day. This will change the level of instruction.
“The board has applauded the results of the junior high and the increases on PSSA. The core teachers have reduced the periods taught, not increased,” Tshudy said. “So I ask you to take caution as you move forward with the 10-period day, that it does not mean an increased teaching load of seven periods a day.
“The majority of us support that. My fear is that becomes a 39-minute period and we end up all teaching seven out of nine, and I’m telling you that’s going to tax our teachers to the point that we have decreasing returns on the actual performance in the classroom.”
The board tabled a recommendation to award bonus grade points for honors classes. Final grades would be worth 4.25 points for an A, 3.25 points for a B and so on, for calculating grade point averages.
Board member Diana Paccapaniccia said the change should either begin with students entering ninth grade in the fall or be made retroactive for all students now in the senior high. Directors debated but were unable to decide which way to implement the change.
On a divided vote, the board also tabled a recommendation to count the results of advanced-placement exams in students’ grade averages for taking the same course in the classroom beginning in 2014-15.
Board members Paccapaniccia, Hilliary Creely, David Ferguson, Robert Gongaware and Brian Petersen voted to hold off a decision; directors Thomas Harley, Walter Schroth and Robert Werner voted against delaying the decision. Board member Alison Billon was absent.
Tshudy asked the board to wait until hearing a presentation from a group of AP teachers before deciding on the grade issue.
“I think it would be responsible for you to hear from people in the field before you make an important decision like that,” he said.
The board authorized the administration to amend the dual enrollment agreements with Indiana University for Pennsylvania and Westmoreland County Community College to allow eligible 11th-grade students to enroll in college courses. Under the agreements, students would be allowed to take advanced level courses in college to meet high school graduation requirements if the senior high doesn’t offer equivalent courses.
The administration also was authorized to place students in remedial classes until they achieve proficiency on the Keystone Retake Exams or until they complete Keystone Exam Project guidelines. Students would get credit for the classes as electives.
“We want to give them the best opportunity to pass that test,” McElheny told the board.
Under another change, students will be excused from classes early each day or from an entire semester of school if they complete the 24 credits required for graduation. Students won’t get their diploma until June, but will be given documentation to allow them to enroll in college, or be permitted to continue in extracurricular activities and sports at the high school.
Seniors also will be allowed to assist junior-high and elementary-school students with learning experiences and earn credit for internship service.
The package of changes also include revisions in the health and physical education graduation credit guidelines beginning in 2014-15, a series of half-year elective English Language Arts courses for seniors starting in the fall, and additional opportunities to take required Business Computer Information Technology courses beginning in 2013-14.
In other business, the board:
n Was told that the IDEAL distance learning program — Indiana’s version of cyber school — has far more participation than originally predicted.
Program coordinator Sandy Monsilovich said the district needed to attract five full-time students and three other “blended” students taking a mixture of classroom and computer courses to break even. With those numbers, the district would recover enough subsidies paid out to other cyber schools to match the cost of starting IDEAL.
But IDEAL so far has 14 full-time students and 12 blended students for the second semester, and has requests from three more students to join the program, Monsilovich said.
Still, the district has 55 students attending outside cyber schools and efforts continue to lure them back, Monsilovich said.
“The good news is this is growing very rapidly,” Monsilovich said. “I don’t see this program going backward at all.”
n Voted to ask for architects’ proposals to design modifications of senior high classrooms and conversion of a maintenance bay area for use as an IDEAL classroom and office space.
n Agreed to begin the application process to establish a Challenger Learning Center in Indiana County.
A Challenger center would promote science education in the form of space missions, under auspices of the Challenger Center foundation. The program was set up by relatives of the seven astronauts who were killed 27 years ago Monday in the Jan. 28, 1986, explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
The application process may take three to six months to complete, Schroth said. In that time, the district’s ad hoc Challenger Learning Center Committee, headed by Julia Trimarchi Cuccaro, of Indiana, would prepare a business plan for the center and obtain commitments from other area school districts and community organizations to share in financing the project, beginning with the $5,000 application fee.
Start-up costs have been estimated at $1.5 million.
n Cast a split vote to approve the purchase of new and replacement equipment for the Digital Media Production courses at costs up to $78,500 and to authorize curriculum for Digital Media Production I, II and III courses for the 2013-14 school year.
Some directors objected to the spending request being submitted so late in the budgeting process. Directors Ferguson, Harley, Paccapaniccia, Petersen and Creely voted to approve it; Gongaware, Schroth and Werner were opposed.
n Accepted with regret the resignation notices submitted by senior high art teacher Floyd Stiles Jr., senior high mathematics teacher Cathy Schloemer and senior high English teacher Gretchen Barbor, who will retire at the end of the school year. In all, six teachers with a total of 166 years of service to the district have announced their retirements this month: Stiles, 25 years; Schloemer, 36 years; Barbor, 35 years; Beth Grafton, 34 years; Connie Scanga, 13 years; and Mary Bender, 23 years.
n Employed Brad Trout as a substitute after-school math program instructor for students in grades 3 to 5, at a per diem rate of pay.
n Accepted the resignation of Ben Franklin Elementary School food service worker Connie Nanni, effective Jan. 18, for personal reasons.
n Authorized the administration to post and advertise a para-educator position, and a temporary part-time elementary teacher for kindergarten classes at Eisenhower Elementary School.
n Appointed Robyn Bailey-Orchard as the junior high dramatics and musical director for the 2012-13 school year at supplemental pay of $3,448.
n Approved the attendance of senior high music teacher Scott Salser at the National Association for Music Education Conference and an educational field trip by two senior high chorus students to the NAfME Eastern Division Treble Choir event at the same conference on April 4 to 7 in Hartford, Conn., at costs to the district of $740 for Salser, $400 for the students, and $180 for a substitute teacher.