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Students at Farrington High can take more courses than at other public schools -- boosting enrollment in electives. With graduation requirements going up, other schools might follow Farrington's lead. Above, Shieryll Bolibol works on a computer in her business communication class.
Farrington provides a blueprint on giving students a chance to earn ...
AT FARRINGTON High School in Kalihi, students take eight courses a year -- allowing them to try more advanced classes and electives or beef up on the basics.
At most other public high schools in Hawaii, students take just six courses a year.
The disparity is not well known, but it is becoming an issue as graduation requirements jump for fall's freshmen. Pressure is growing to abandon the traditional six-credit schedule. It is a touchy subject, however, that requires as much as 75 percent approval by teachers.
To make matters worse for students, summer school is being phased out on many campuses as the year-round school calendar kicks in statewide in the fall. That gives students fewer options at a time when more is being demanded of them.
"The fact is, if schedules are not changed, we're not going to be able to do for students what is required," said Principal Catherine Payne, whose campus pioneered a new bell schedule eight years ago that gives students many more choices.
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Farrington students Zach Cruz, left, Keoni Tsuha, Deborah Kanoa and Lhiberty Pagaduan work on an engine in automotive class.
"Schools need to be encouraged to find ways to offer strong academic programs, remediation courses when needed and a rich elective curriculum," she said. "It is unlikely that schools on a traditional six-credit year will be able to do all three."
Starting with the Class of 2010, Hawaii public school students must earn 24 credits to graduate, up from 22. At most high schools, 24 credits are all that is available to them during the school day -- six courses a year for four years.
"It doesn't give the kids any wiggle room at all," said Payne, whose school has been entertaining visitors from other campuses considering changes in their schedules.
The Board of Education voted in 2004 to make Hawaii's graduation requirements among the toughest in the nation, in an effort to increase academic rigor. Along with core subjects, students will have to complete two years of either foreign language, fine arts or career/technical education.
Assistant Superintendent Katherine Kawaguchi said her department is urging principals to work with staff to come up with "creative ways" of time management, but there is no mandate to change class schedules to accommodate the shift in requirements. The union, too, is leaving it up to individual schools.
"The teachers will get together, and they'll pick something that's best for their school," said Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Even if they stick with the traditional schedule, students can still graduate, he said.
"It forces students to step up to the plate," he said. "Failure is not an option."
Changing the bell schedule gives students more classroom time, but the teachers' instructional time is kept to 1,285 minutes a week under the union contract. Still, teachers can wind up handling more students per semester or face larger classes.
Kalani High in East Honolulu tried to change its schedule recently but could not muster enough support from teachers.
"My impression is that the parents support the change because it gives more options for their children," said Harvey Kodama, chairman of Kalani's School Community Council. "It's a tradeoff between that and, on the other side, an increased workload for the teachers."
For some teachers a different bell schedule pays off. Enrollment in electives such as foreign languages, industrial and fine arts shot up by 50 percent to 80 percent at Farrington after the schedule change, in an era when such courses have been losing ground to the basics.
"Some of the greatest supporters of this schedule became the arts and the business teachers," Payne said. "They needed to support it, or they might not even have a place at the table."
Still, most of Hawaii's 45 public high schools have stuck with the six-credit system. Some offer after-school courses as well, and others are "slowly migrating" to seven periods, said Jan Fukada, an information specialist for the Department of Education.
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Students have a chance to take more electives with an eight-credit bell schedule. Farrington High School students Marinett Manaday, Odessa Pulido, Kathrina Guira and Joran Cabras play on a game board in a print-making class.
Seven-period schedules can fit into a regular school day, with less time between classes. Schools on that system include Waipahu, Lahainaluna and a recent recruit, Kaimuki High. Hilo High has voted to launch a seven-period schedule starting in 2007-08.
Just a few high schools -- Farrington, Waianae, Campbell and Pahoa -- offer eight credits a year. Baldwin High School in Wailuku is poised to join them next year, after 75 percent of its teachers approved the change.
Roosevelt High has been testing the waters but is not ready to switch schedules yet, although some students would welcome it.
"I was thinking about taking an Advanced Placement class, but I didn't have enough room," said Kelsey Hara, a 17-year-old Roosevelt senior who plays in the band. Her sister, Courtney, a freshman, said her class voted to switch to an eight-period schedule to allow for more electives, but it is not their decision.
Under Farrington's eight-credit system, instructional time for students jumped to 1,713 minutes a week, up from 1,285, according to registrar Martha Burt. The school day runs slightly longer for students, and teachers prepare for classes during breaks in the school day, rather than doing that work after kids are dismissed from school.
Students take just four in-depth courses each semester, covering material that would normally take a year. They get the same, standard 125 hours of instruction per credit. While classes are a bit bigger, teachers handle fewer students overall each semester, about 90 as compared with 150.
"If you're teaching English literature and grading essays, that's a little bit better," Burt said.
Vanessa Escajeda, who was a sophomore at Farrington when the schedule was switched, said the first year was difficult because classes were longer, but she appreciated the chance to take more classes.
"I was able to get to pre-calculus and physics because I could double up on core classes," she said. "And for students who had difficulty, this gave them more of a chance to pass."
Still, there are drawbacks to every bell schedule. Kahuku High School has tried three schedules in the last seven years, and "we haven't found nirvana yet," Principal Lisa DeLong said. The seven-period schedule overloaded teachers with as many as 180 students a semester, she said. A trimester system created gaps in English and math instruction and made it hard to team-teach.
So for now the school is back on the traditional schedule, with an after-school period attended by about a quarter of its students.
"We're still in search of a perfect bell schedule," DeLong said. "I have an entire file drawer on different schedules. It's not as simple as changing the time the bell rings. It affects every aspect of your school."