Next school year will mark the beginning of a change in class schedules under the program of studies and how some diplomas are earned at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School.
The School Committee has approved the proposals by Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak, which change the high school schedule from a trimester to a full-year semester system and implements a “Diploma B” program for approved students struggling academically.
“It’s a solid program,” he told the committee on March 16 about the schedule change. “But it’s a change in our program of studies this year that directly affects the Class of 2020, indirectly affects the Class of 2017 for next year, and ’18 and ’19 — and there’s a grandfather clause.”
Students sign up for seven or eight classes, but only five meet each day. The full complement of classes meets within seven-day rotations. Seminar returns to the schedule every afternoon, as does the senior’s end-of-day period for Community Service Learning internships and senior privileges.
He explained that students in the latter two classes have already earned up to 36 credits.
“It’s just a little bit of a tweak, not taking away any rigor in our classes, giving kids the opportunity to have one teacher in a core subject for the entire year,” Szymaniak said.
Courses will no longer be valued at two credits per trimester, they will be four credits per full-year course and two credits per semester, Szymaniak explained to the School Committee. The current trimester system requires106 credits for graduation, but that will change to 96 credits for the class of 2020.
“Balancing that out, looking at all the other schools in the area — and I look at Duxbury, Silver Lake, East Bridgewater, Scituate — keeping in line with them, we’ve moved to four credits for a full-year course and two credits for a semester and 96 credits to graduate,” he said. “If I’m a diligent student and I take seven classes … I can even fail a class here and there and still make our graduation requirements.”
The schedule change has had its critics among some students and parents. Two underclassmen, requesting their names be withheld, recently contacted the Express about their concerns, including the number of classes required, confusion about a rotating class schedule and weekend AP classes. The latter has been a fact of life already, according to Szymaniak, who would like to see them return. He cited day-long AP seminars that have been attended by W-H students all over the South Shore, and expressed a wish to have the staffing to offer them here.
“We’re no different than anybody else as far as class time,” Szymaniak said. “Teachers have to instruct in a different way — they’re still going to cover content, but they’re not going to have as many hours in a day to do that.”
The class rotation thereby closely mirrors a college class schedule.
“Next year’s juniors and seniors will have experienced two schedule changes in the past two years,” one sophomore said. “There have been two petitions to have the schedule just stay how it is, both of which gained quite a lot of signatures, but the principal paid them absolutely no mind.”
Szymaniak said this week that the petitions had been withdrawn by student organizers after he met with them before he had a look at the documents, and he explained that the previous change, which suspended seminar period was necessary following the reduction of five teachers following budget cuts.
Another student pointed to the confusion from the class rotation as his main concern, and Szymaniak conceded there would be some confusion at the outset.
“I’ll concede they did some things right,” the student said. “My biggest concern would be that [classes rotate] every day, which would be fine if there weren’t two classes dropping throughout the week.”
“It’s going to be a little confusing at first,” Szymaniak said Monday. “But it’s something that’s familiar [in other schools] on the South Shore.”
He noted students have just registered for next year’s classes under the new schedule, so there has been no concrete feedback from them or parents as yet.
“I think parents want continuity,” he said. “They want their kids to have a teacher that they know for all year.”
Diploma B approved
The School Committee also approved a Diploma B designation for students who are approved for it.
“I’m an advocate for all kids in our school,” Szymaniak said, noting the district offers a Community Evening School, based on credits, with a separate graduation ceremony. “What I see now is a core group of kids — probably 15 to 20 per grade — that are not college-bound, that are not tech-bound, they want to go in the military, they want to work, they want to go to Massasoit. Our Diploma A has requirements that some of these students find really challenging to pass, foreign language in particular.”
He stressed that the Diploma B designation is in no way a form of tracking students, but is based on a program in Hull. Szymaniak altered the program for W-H, requiring 92 credits to graduate compared to the 82 to 86 credits Hull High School requires for a Diploma B. The additional credits W-H requires would be in elective courses.
Students would be no different from other WHRHS students at regular commencement ceremonies and all diplomas look alike, but transcripts would carry the Diploma B designation.
It is not meant as an easy out, however, Szymaniak cautioned. Four years of English, three years of math, science and social studies, and attempt at foreign language and other credits will be required.
“Every eighth-grader entering the high school is a Diploma A student,” he said. “At the end of freshman year — sometimes sophomore year — things happen.”
At that time, Szymaniak will meet with at-risk students and their parents to discuss goals and solutions. If, at the end of sophomore year a student is still in grade recovery, Diploma B will be discussed as an option.
“Everything’s fluid,” Szymaniak said, explaining that Diploma B students could always switch back over to Diploma A. “Some of my students go to CES and then transfer back in.”