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PARENTS PUZZLE OVER LONGER CLASS PERIODS

When parents at Frontier Central High School Monday night strained to recall sitting through high school classes, some of them reluctantly entertained visions of monotone teachers lecturing for 40 minutes without pausing.

And when they tried to imagine doubling the length of those lectures, some of the 30 parents were inclined to question the wisdom of Frontier's move toward block scheduling, the name given the proposal featuring longer classes.

Eighty minute lectures? Some of the parents could scarcely imagine such a thing. Others, like Gary Dye, questioned whether the length of student contact with the teacher matters more than the frequency. Most classes would meet every other day under the proposal.

Don't worry, high school administrators were quick to tell parents. Extended classes would not mean lectures so long as to induce snoring.

"I don't think it's humanly possible to lecture for 80 minutes," said Assistant Principal Timothy Marong.

Although class periods will be nearly twice as long as current periods, effective teachers will divide that time into presentations, group projects, research and other activities to offer variety and reinforce the instruction, administrators said.

Meeting the revised Regents standards, which fueled the school's interest in block scheduling, will mean training students to analyze, solve problems and think critically rather than simply memorize dates, events and theorems -- in essence, teaching thinking instead of remembering.

"Being able to verbalize what you did logically is an important part of the new assessment," Marong said. "No longer are we just going to get notes on an overhead and say, 'Study this for tomorrow. Good-bye.' "

For instance, the new English exam, to be introduced next year, will span two days and a total of six hours, as opposed to the current one-day, three-hour exam. Preparing students for that type of assessment, Marong said, will require creative, improved teaching strategies, and extended periods.

But parents remained divided on the issue Monday at the third of four district information sessions. Most of the concerns centered on two issues: keeping students' attention for more than an hour at a time and ensuring students are able to fit all the classes they need and want into the new schedule template.

Principal Mary Ann Costello assured parents that guidance counselors had found ways to continue offering more than 300 courses to students under the proposal, with just a handful of students unable to fit all the classes they wanted.

Paulette Gaske, mother of a Frontier sophomore, said the school where she teaches tried block scheduling, and it got rave reviews.

"If you plan your classes well and change activities, the time does go by very quickly and the students do adjust to the time change," she said of Mount Mercy Academy. "Our students didn't want to go back to the old schedule. You have to give your kids more credit. They really do adjust."

Some parents questioned the timing of the change. If the School Board approves the plan Thursday, Frontier would be one of just a few local schools to employ the extended periods.

"Right now, we're one of the best schools," one father said. "Do we really need to take the chance? Why isn't Amherst or Williamsville taking the chance like we are?"

"The longer we wait, the worse it will be," Marong said. "We would rather not react to a disaster, but plan for success."

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