Changes to student schedules in Douglas County’s high schools are forcing high school principals to be creative.
High schools shifted this year to block periods, which for some students means long off-periods and early dismissal times. For many of them, school days that once ended about 3 p.m. now wrap up at 12:30 p.m.
District officials acknowledge it’s a concern, one they said is not being ignored.
“That’s something each building is addressing individually,” assistant superintendent of secondary education Dan McMinimee said. “Student safety is paramount for all of us. That’s got to be key moving forward and I’m confident every one of our principals is addressing that.”
Highlands Ranch High School Principal Jerry Goings has taken several steps to keep students on campus.
“I do have a concern with kids that have more open periods being able to go and do things that are not productive educationally, and also not productive personally,” he said. “We’re trying to create situations where kids can use their off-periods in a productive way.”
The high school has opened all-day math and general tutoring labs, during which students can drop in for help from National Honor Society students, parent volunteers and classified staff members.
A staffed computer room also is available for students who want to do homework and make-up assignments.
“We also increased the computers in our library for drop-ins,” he said. “Our library is basically packed every single period. We’re actually getting to our limit in terms of the number of kids that are in there.”
At Chaparral High School, Principal Ron Peterson said they’ve added a daily “freshman success seminar”, which focuses on social issues like suicide prevention and sexting, as well as polishing study skills and creating a four-year high school plan.
“Whenever you change a schedule, it’s a hot topic,” he said, but he noted that students prefer the altered schedule. “The kids are overwhelmingly in favor.”
A few weeks into the new schedule, Goings hasn’t seen an increase in discipline or attendance problems.
“But I’m not naive enough to think I have some kids that are not using their time wisely,” he said. “Kids that are successful students are using that extra time period well. But kids that are at-risk and struggling are the ones we’re worried about.”
Worried parents should not hesitate to reach out to the schools for help, McMinimee said.
“I certainly understand the concerns parents bring up regarding safety,” he said. “I don’t believe any one of our principals, if a parent called them and said, ‘My kid can’t handle this. How can you help me?,’ would not work directly with that parent to help alleviate issues in an effort to support the student."