UNION COUNTY — The Union County School District addressed concerns over state regulation waivers — and discussed possible scheduling strategies to solve the challenges with state regulations — during this week’s meeting of the Union County Board of School Trustees.
Superintendent Dr. Kristi Woodall and Director of Secondary Education Cindy Langley addressed the board Monday evening in reference to the waiver concerns.
Langley said for accreditation purposes, schools and districts are responsible for determining compliance with standards based upon applicable State Board of Education regulations and relevant statutes as outlined in the South Carolina Code of Laws. She said while there are more than nine pages of standards for consideration in grades 9-12, two regulations were at the heart of Monday’s discussion.
The first was State Board regulation 43-205, which states that no teacher is permitted to teach more than 1,500 minutes weekly, which translates to 25 hours of student/teacher face-to-face instruction.
The second is State Board regulation 43-234, which states that “the instructional day for secondary students is at least six (6) hours a day or its equivalent weekly, excluding lunch periods.” This same language as well as specific situations permitting the reduction of the instructional day is also found in the SC Code of Laws, 59-1-425.
“The two regulations do not overlap easily and present a challenge for us, especially with the CATE (Career and Technology Education) programs as we seek to meet college and career-readiness goals,” Langley said.
“In 2012-13, UCHS was given three findings for certification and minutes taught,” Woodall said. “The issues have been addressed. The minutes taught issue was cleared by the State Board of Education waiver last month. The administration is accountable for working to clear deficiencies found on the report.”
“We chose to pursue the waiver option encouraged by (State Superintendent of Education) Dr. Zais to offer flexibility in scheduling,” Woodall added.
The district was asked at the previous board meeting to provide copies of class and bell schedules and answer several questions, to which answers were provided by Dr. Woodall as follows:
When (on what specific dates) did the district become aware of the lack of compliance?
Jan. 15, 2013: South Carolina Department of Education High School Audit by Darlene Prevatte.
On what specific dates were waivers requested and on what dates were they granted?
The first letter requesting waiver was drafted Jan. 17, 2013. The second waiver request was placed on consent agenda at a Sate Board of Education meeting and granted on March 12.
Please indicate the school year for which the waivers were applicable. If multiple waivers, why?
Waivers were requested for 2012-13 and 2013-14. In the original letter, the district requested the waiver for both 2012-13 and 2013-14 as directed at that time. We learned this year that a new request needed to be submitted.
At the time of the audit, all teachers were teaching six of seven periods, exceeding the 1,500-minute teaching limit per week by 60 minutes. The schedule for 2013-14 was adjusted so that teachers in the core subjects as well as special education teach five of seven classes. Other subject-area teachers including CATE instructors teach six of the seven classes.
We are not the only district on a traditional schedule. What is being done in those districts?
Each situation is different based upon offerings, student enrollment and staffing. The state department requests bell schedules periodically; however, they don’t request teaching schedules showing teaching periods and planning periods. Our deficiency was noted through the random audit in 2013. Woodall noted that there was no feedback regarding compliance of other schools on seven-period schedules because Union County was the only such district audited.
When we were on the traditional seven-period schedule, were we in compliance in the past?
Yes, we were, because the teaching limit of 1,500 minutes per week was not in effect at that time.
As Langley explained earlier in the meeting, the most challenging request given by board members was for the district to present an instructional plan for 2014-2015 that addresses the concerns.
“Some people have suggested that we can fix the problem by shaving two minutes of time from each class,” Langley said. “Doing so would result in our being out of compliance with regulation 43-234, which stipulates 360 minutes of instruction per day.”
She explained that 50 minutes times seven periods is equal to 350 minutes of instruction, which would leave the district 10 minutes short.
“Therein lies our issue — we must reconcile a minimum of 360 minutes of daily instruction (regulation 43-234) with a teaching cap of 1,500 minutes per week (regulation 43-205),” Langley said. “If we create a schedule with elective teachers teaching five of seven classes, we will limit students’ options, especially for career classes. Presently, CATE teachers have two introductory classes, which meet for one period with two additional double-blocked classes for a total of six periods of instruction. Limiting their teaching load to five class periods would eliminate one of the introductory courses and hurt all the CATE programs. Of course, not any of the teachers want that.”
“On the other hand, we can’t hire instructors to teach one section of each CATE program or any other elective program for that matter.”
Langley explained that one option would be to have all teachers teach five of the seven periods, however, such a plan would reduce the number of first-year classes available in the CATE program, which in turn, would reduce the number of CATE completers. That plan would also reduce student class options and increase class sizes. Langley said another option the district has explored for 2014-15 is a modified block scheduling.
Modified Block Scheduling
Woodall and Langley said the district is collecting additional course requests from UCHS students and will work to see if a modified block schedule — a compromise between block and traditional scheduling — would work. Courses in the modified schedule would be year-round, so a student would not have the first level of a class in the fall of one year, and then the second level in the spring of the next year, creating a considerable learning gap.
A modified schedule is an A/B 90-minute year-round every-other-day schedule combined with year-round daily 45-minute classes in some grades or subjects such as those for 9th and 10th graders. Woodall said block may be more effective at this point since the district has ordered staff development in use of class time — especially in classes where students move or do hands-on activities such as chemistry labs or P.E. Upper level core content courses may also be effective since changes were implemented in this year-round model.