The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 31, 2013

New high school schedule gets high marks from Portage principal

PORTAGE — The Portage Area School District held a special board meeting on Thursday night to discuss concerns about the high school’s recent adoption of a tighter schedule.

Despite some faculty worries that less hands-on lab time alloted for science courses could affect standardized Keystone exam scores, few elective choices for upperclassmen and a recently dissolved chemistry course, high school Principal Ralph Cecere was confident that their curriculum blocks are on the right track and that most teachers surveyed were “overwhelmingly in support of the (new) schedule.”

And the students – although their main concern seems to be, according to Cecere, less free time and more time on-task at home and in the classroom – probably secretly like it too.

“There isn’t much free time, that’s what we get paid to do,” Cecere said.

According to his report, the results have already begun to show.

By cutting back one of the eight daily instructional periods – which adds about nine minutes to the end of every other period – it creates a much more intense learning environment, one to which the students are responding well. Total honor students are at a record high for the current seven-year high school administration and total students with F’s on their report cards is at a record low.

“Students can work more one-on-one; (teachers are) able to do their assignments and get around the classroom to the students, making sure they know what’s going on,” he said.

And, Cecere reported, disciplinary referrals were cut in half compared with previous years – a likely result of that “free time” turning into more engaging coursework and expectations, he said.

Mary Ann George, from the high school’s guidance office, advised the board that she was changing fewer student schedules under the new class period framework.

“I think that cuts down on the discipline problems because they’re taking a class they want to be in,” she said.

Regardless, Cecere acknowledged the high school’s hard-working teachers for finding ways to work within the confines of the new schedule and the tenacity and drive of his students to excel under it.

“We have entirely changed the culture at that school,” he said. “It’s a culture of rigor, respect and when they come in, they’re hitting the ground running.”

The board finally decided to review the scheduling system again after the state’s standardized Keystone scores have been returned, to see just how this shift will impact them.

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