When looking at the top-performing schools in the state a few years ago through test scores, Fairhope High School Principal Jon Cardwell had his eye on the prize.
“We were chasing schools like Hoover, Vestavia, Mountain Brook and Oak Mountain in test scores and a majority of them were on a period day,” Cardwell said.
At the time, Fairhope was on a different schedule that was basically four blocks per day, four classes each semester. The schools he was trying to catch were doing a different schedule, seven periods a day, and it was leading to different results.
“The high-performing schools are doing it and that’s who we were chasing at that time and we passed Hoover,” Cardwell said. “Those are good schools and that’s what we were looking at to see what was their edge and that was one of the changes we made. Our test scores have either stayed the same or gone up since.”
The Baldwin County Board of Education recently decided all eight county high schools will go to the seven-period schedule in the fall of 2020. Some concerns were raised about moving to the new schedule. Four are already using it.
“I’m excited to see our students engaged and concerned about academics,” Superintendent Eddie Tyler said. “I understand their concerns and objections, but our team and the experts we engage to review these matters are confident these are changes we need to make to improve. More importantly, where we have already made these changes in Baldwin County, we have seen significant improvements.”
In Fairhope, the seven-period day first debuted in 2015 and Cardwell has seen steady improvements since ditching the four-period method.
“It’s hour-and-a-half classes versus, in a seven-period day you’re at about 52 minutes of classes,” Cardwell said. “What’s happening is an hour and a half is tough. The teachers would teach for 45 to 50 minutes and then the rest of the time they would give you homework and you’d do homework. You only have them for that semester, so if you think about that, you’re teaching a half a semester’s content when you really should be teaching a whole semester.”
Also, the courses don’t change over the Christmas break and students get a year’s worth of study on each subject.
“We just looked at it and determined a better use of our time was 50 minutes because our instruction was improving,” Cardwell said. “You had a whole year to learn rather than a semester, cramming it in. We looked at a lot of different variables when we made our decision.”
At first, there was even some opposition from the parents and students in Fairhope, Cardwell said, but they eventually recognized the merits of the new system.
“There’s a lot of fear going around, but we’ve been doing this for four or five years and been pretty successful at it,” Cardwell said. “We had a very vocal critic and in the end, after her kids graduated, she came back and told me, ‘You were right.’ I told her we’re doing this to improve academics and it was the right move for us at the time.”
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