When pupils in Columbia County head back to school today, some changes will be obvious. Others won’t.
Because the school system switched high schools to a seven-period day, those students will attend one more class per day than last year.
“Students were very limited in what they could take as far as electives,” Superintendent Dr. Sandra Carraway said. “So adding a seven-period day allows students more flexibility.”
Students will have the opportunity to enroll in more academic classes, a wider variety of electives or make up extra credits.
“It will help them stay on track to graduate in four years,” Carraway said, adding that the shift to seven periods also allows students to earn four extra credits during their high school careers. “We feel like it’s a great opportunity for all our students.”
Evans High School Principal Don Brigdon said his students aren’t necessarily thrilled to be taking an extra class, but they are excited to have more choices.
“I think it’s going to be great for our kids,” Brigdon said. “It gives them another opportunity, an opportunity to catch up or expand their selections.”
The switch to seven periods also required an adjustment to the school day itself – it will start earlier and end a few minutes later.
The period shift was a factor in the hiring of so many new teachers for the 2014-15 school year.
As high school teachers are taking on an added class, 17 new teaching positions are lightening the load by reducing class sizes to at or below state mandates in core and foreign language classes.
Brigdon said the additional teachers are making it easier for everyone by reducing the teacher-to-student ratio.
Several years ago, the school board was forced to increase class sizes to make up for declining revenues, member Mike Sleeper said.
“One of the only ways we could deal with that was to increase class sizes,” he said.
“We all committed that when the money started coming back (we’d reduce them). It’s a step in the right direction. We’re not back where we were. This is a great start.”
Overall, the school system hired about 200 new teachers – 85 were to fill newly created positions. Carraway said the system is using more than 60 of those new teachers to reduce class size in first, fourth and fifth grades in elementary schools and one grade level in middle schools.
Class sizes are falling even as the school system is seeing rapid growth.
Carraway said she anticipates school to start with nearly 25,000 pupils – more than 400 more than last year.
The first few days of school will show whether any more new hires are needed.
“The enrollment is always going to be going up,” Sleeper said. “Every year we are growing between 400 and 500 students. It’s basically a small school in terms of population (growth) each year.”