District considering an independent study options program for students

The availability of an independent study or “seventh period” has previously been procured primarily by students at Bainbridge High School and Commodore Options School.

So when the Bainbridge Island School District started working on a plan to expand the seventh period option – albeit for a fee – Assoc. Supt. Julie Goldsmith said she was surprised at the response she got from students and parents who took a survey provided by the district.

“It was much more positive than I thought it would be,” she said of the surveys she received. “Not everyone is interested, but the majority of them are saying ‘Yeah, it’s a great opportunity.’”

The district is gathering information as staff works on creating an options program to give students at the high school and middle school levels more choices in classes that they want to take.

Goldsmith said the district is working on the program because the number of students taking independent study courses has increased to the point that the district cannot afford the costs involved, primarily with teachers who are not paid for taking on independent study courses.

“We were looking at how do we continue it as an option?” Goldsmith said. “And should we? That’s the question we have in the survey. Let’s take a look at fees and how could we expand options to continue in this current (economical) climate, but do it so it wasn’t going to be a negative impact on the district.”

Currently, the district is funded to operate on a six-period day, with students at the high school level taking six classes each semester to satisfy their 24 credit requirement to graduate.

With specific credit requirements to fulfill, students often do not get the chance to take elective courses to learn about various subjects that are not covered through the seven core subjects.

Students who take a full load of classes also have the option to take independent study physical education when they cannot fit a PE course into their schedule.

Goldsmith said more than 100 students are taking independent-study PE this school year. BHS provides a 0.2 FTE teacher for the course at a cost of $17,000, which is not covered by state funding.

Out of the more than 750 surveys turned into the district by students and parents, a majority of them said the school district should expand tuition-based courses and they were either “interested” or “very interested” in taking the courses.

The majority of students wanted to be offered courses for career education, while the majority of parents wanted fine arts courses offered.

For the options of whether to feature courses with online learning (an area Goldsmith said the district wants to expand), traditional or “seat-based” courses or independent study courses, both students and parents were in favor of traditional and independent study courses.

Both parents and students also stated they were not interested in an online credit recovery option, which means a student can retake a course they failed during the school year or at summer school.

The district is proposing a $200 fee for a semester of independent study PE and $375 per semester for online courses, independent study courses and for “seventh period” courses – provided there are enough students who sign up for a course.

For the middle school level, the district is considering a change for students who take a full year in music and world language, and who waive their participation in PE.

The district is proposing an online fitness monitoring plan where students come up with their own plan and are monitored as they set their goals and track their progress. Of the 55 parents impacted by this, 77 percent said in a survey they would be interested or very interested in the change.

Goldsmith said the hope is they can save some teaching jobs with the options program.

She also said that there will be scholarships and/or a sliding scale made available for students who cannot afford the fee.

“It’s allowing students to take some things that they want to take,” she said. “To me it’s about expansion (of  options) – never is it an expectation that this is (for) all kids.”

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