By Luke Hegdal

Staff writer

HERMISTON — Hermiston High School will be adopting a new master schedule for the 2007-2008 school year in an effort to meet state and federal requirements.

The new block schedule will allow the school to institute Core Academic Support Classes, while retaining valuable elective courses, according to Principal Sean Gallagher.

The academic support classes will allow students to focus on those areas they have trouble with, such as math or science.

Students will use a computer program called PLATO that is designed to find trouble subjects. Even though students will work mostly on their own, Gallagher said certified teachers will supervise the students and help when needed.

"It all comes down to flexibility," said Gallagher. "Under the current trimester system, if we were to try to use that core academic system, it would pretty much kill our electives. We don't want that. It would also be very problematic in scheduling our House Programs."

The House Program was designed to curb high drop-out rates by giving incoming students familiarity and stability in their class schedules.

"The research has been showing for a long time now that it's all about relationships and connections that students feel toward their school," Gallagher said. "If you feel connected to your high school you're more likely to stay in school."

In the block schedule system to be implemented next year, students will have a total of eight subjects, but only four, 90-minute classes per day, and a different four in rotation the following day. The students will have those eight classes for the entire school year.

"The math department has told us in no uncertain terms for a number of years now that they prefer to have the kids for a whole year," Gallagher said. "In a trimester, you have the kids for two of three trimesters."

The longer class periods will also give activity based classes, such as physical education and art, more time with students and cut down on transition time. However, teachers will have to adjust their teaching styles and be creative in their approach to education.

"The research shows that in a 90-minute period of time, a teacher must change up things," Gallagher said. "What we're going to be focusing on in the next six months is teacher training."

According to Gallagher, disorganized students may also struggle with the new system, due to the lag in which homework is due.

Gallagher also said that the new schedule will not give students more time in class to do homework.

"You still have to meet your curriculum requirements, he said. "We're just dividing the instruction over the course of the year into different chunks."

The district isn't focusing on high school students alone, however, and according to Gallagher teachers and administrators have been collaborating at all levels to help students meet rigorous, new requirements. By the 2008-2009 school year, the Hermiston School District hopes to have first-level algebra as the default math class for eighth graders.

"There's a lot of controversy about the No Child Left Behind Act, and how it is either positively or negatively affecting schools nationwide," said Gallagher. "That is a real driving force in what we're doing because the state and federal governments have these expectations that, in Oregon at least, 100 percent of kids will be passing the state assessments by the end of their sophomore year. That is a big challenge."

It is a challenge that the school seems ready to meet, and Gallagher said they have lot of teachers excited about the new schedule.

"As those new state requirements come on board, we'll be able to react to that quite positively," he said. "What it comes down to is how your staff embraces any kind of change."

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