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Superintendent suggests reducing graduation requirements, changing to semester system

Article Date: 
24 January, 2014 (All day)

While the state is considering requiring 24 high school credits before graduation, the Morgan County School District superintendent is wondering if reducing Morgan High School’s 30 graduation requirements could save money in an already tight budget.
Superintendent Doug Jacobs asked Morgan High Principal Wade Murdock to consider reducing the 30-credit requirement.
“Based on our financial situation, why are we requiring additional credits and teachers?” Jacobs asked the school board during their January meeting.  “I propose there are significant savings if we rolled into a semester system.  It is a way to save money.”
A semester system would mean seven class periods each day, with shorter classes than Morgan students are used to with the trimester system, Jacobs said.  While it would increase by one the amount of classes each teacher could teach, it would also leave less time to conduct science labs and cooking projects, he said.  The time difference in the classroom would be about 15 minutes.
Jacobs has heard of schools on the semester system that double up classes once or twice a week.  For example, science classes that normally are 45 minutes long are 90 minutes long once a week, allowing for more lab time.
Another plus is that students in grades 9 through 12 would have English and math classes all school year.  Under the trimester system, students took those classes only 2/3 of the year.  That would “beef up” attendance, especially among high school seniors who can’t finish early, Jacobs said.
Board member Neil Carrigan, a retired Morgan High math teacher, said it is a good idea to push kids to take math their senior year so they can transition well into college math.
“Math every day all year long is a good idea,” Jacobs agreed.
School board member Ken Durrant was on the school board years ago when a switch was made to the trimester system.  
“It created upheaval in the community,” he said.  “I would be curious to see what would happen if we went back.”
Jody Hipwell said the community was also reluctant to switch to the block schedule at Morgan Middle School, but now most parents are happy with the change.
“It took time for it.  It was one of those change things,” Hipwell said.  “But now everyone is pretty happy with it.”
The state’s call for 13 essential academic credits and 11 other credits is geared toward steering students in grades 9 through 12 to specific careers.  The 24-credit requirement would allow more student choice to pursue fine arts as well as career and technical education, Jacobs said.
“They are looking at opening it up,” he said.  “It would give the student more input on the credits they take.”
School districts can require more credits for graduation than the state does, but not less.
“I’m not forcing it,” Jacobs said.  “I’m asking the high school to take a good look at scheduling.  Now is a good time to take a look at it.  It is another scheduling thing we can do to be creative and save money.”
Jacobs hopes the Morgan High School Community Council will discuss it and the school board members want to hear back from both the council and the principal regarding their opinions.  Jacobs said he might also poll parents.
“We are the ones who are going to be meeting with the public,” Durrant said.  “If we do switch, we need to know what the reasons are and why.”