Before this school year is even over, high school administrators in Columbia County are looking for ways to offer the classes students most want next year.
The school system held an online registration in March, allowing students to set their schedules for next year. But the big difference for the new school year is that student requests will dictate, to a large degree, what courses the schools offer and subsequently how schools will be staffed.
In the past, if a class offered by the school filled, those students unable to take the course often would be left to take classes they didn't want. But now, high schools are building schedules to meet the full demand of student requests, even if it means hiring additional teachers and offering courses they've never offered before.
"In theory it's a wonderful, wonderful idea," Greenbrier High School Principal Gloria Hamilton said. "But in practicality it gives you some strange things. Like I have one Latin class."
Because finding a qualified Latin teacher to teach for one hour of the school day could be difficult, Greenbrier will probably use a satellite system to link the school with Lakeside High, Mrs. Hamilton said. Lakeside has a full-time Latin program and is even looking for an additional part-time Latin teacher because of student demand for the foreign language.
But although student requests could expand programs like foreign language, others, such as business and physical education, could see their numbers drop.
"It's going to be interesting," said Betty Peebles, assistant principal and registrar at Evans High School. "I don't know that the way we did the registration process really caused all this, but part of it was the philosophy that our schedules are going to be student run -- so what do the students need?"
Some of the same programs have seen enrollment declining during the past few years because of increased emphasis on academic electives by the state's Board of Regents. Courses not considered academic electives -- such as business, physical education, home economics and other vocational courses -- have slowly lost enrollment.
Next year, those high school teachers whose primary fields experience lower numbers will spend part of the day teaching in their secondary fields to meet course demands and maintain personnel.
While Greenbrier has one teacher who will have to work outside her primary field, the high school will lose one full-time business teacher, a part-time physical education teacher and a part-time science teacher.
Lakeside High eliminated its horticulture program this year because of dwindling enrollment. And Evans High was unable to offer journalism as a class for the first time this year and will not offer it as a class next year. Instead, the school's newspaper is produced as an extracurricular activity.
Music and art programs have not been as hard hit because the Board of Regents recognizes them as academic electives.
Columbia County has looked at alternative schedules as a way to allow more time in the school day for additional course opportunities, but no decisions have been made. Administrators have expressed concern that as college-prep students turn away from nonacademic electives, students who are seeking tech-prep diplomas will see their choices limited.
"The more we lose those kind of elective-type programs, that means their opportunity is being lessened too," Lakeside High Principal Julius McAnally said.
Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112, or firstname.lastname@example.org.