PORTLAND — Students at the city’s three public high schools will begin on a common schedule in the fall, under a plan approved unanimously by the School Committee on Wednesday night.

Portland, Deering and Casco Bay high schools will combine certain low-enrollment classes and schedule them during periods at the start and end of each day. The core of each school’s schedule will remain unchanged.

Jim Morse, who became Portland’s superintendent in July, called for the change to allow greater sharing of teachers, students and resources among the high schools, especially as budget cuts eliminate teaching positions and low-enrollment courses.

Courses scheduled during the shared periods likely will include Advanced Placement, music, remedial literacy, and math and intensive English classes for students who are learning to speak the language.

“There are some who think this goes too far and there are some who think this doesn’t go far enough,” Morse said Wednesday. “We don’t know whether we’ll get all of the benefits we hope to achieve. This is the beginning of a pretty substantive change that may evolve over the years.”

Many details still have to be worked out, such as what courses will be offered during shared periods, where shared courses will be offered and how the shared periods will affect extracurricular activities.

The committee approved the plan on the condition that Morse issue a report in September outlining specific academic, staffing and cost-saving goals for the schedule change, as well as a plan to correct aspects that don’t work.

“There ought not to be this much uncertainty,” said Jaimey Caron, the committee member who proposed the condition of approval.

Committee member Liz Holton said she was “perfectly comfortable” approving the common schedule as proposed, understanding that some aspects will need tweaking along the way.

Morse appointed a task force last fall to develop a shared high school schedule — something that past superintendents have tried but failed to do.

Portland High students now take as many as eight classes throughout the year, alternating blocks of classes every other day.

Deering High students take up to four courses during the fall semester and another four courses during the spring semester, like college students. Casco Bay High students have a six-period day.

Sarah Thompson, a committee member, questioned whether the shared class periods will create scheduling problems when students add or drop classes.

“To me, as a parent, it sounds kind of crazy,” she said.

Scheduling shared periods might create “organized chaos,” Morse said, but he has asked administrators to focus on addressing the learning needs of students rather than a desire for easy scheduling.

Derek Pierce, principal of Casco Bay High, said he expects about 10 percent of students to sign up for shared courses in the first year, with as many as 30 percent taking advantage of the opportunity in future years.

Bijou Umuhoza, Portland High’s representative on the committee, wondered whether students would be forced to take courses at another high school.

“No one is going to be mandated to go anywhere,” Morse said.

The teachers’ union has agreed to negotiate changes in working conditions that may result from the common schedule, such as a longer school day or additional teaching duties.

“A lot of it can’t be known until students have schedules in their hands,” said Gary Vines, union negotiator. “That’s when we’ll see where the conflicts are.”

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

[email protected]