Wiregrass Ranch High lays groundwork for 10-period day

It’s not official yet, but Wiregrass Ranch High School officials are moving ahead with planning for a 10-period school day.

The Pasco County School Board is expected to vote on the issue in December. But the school can’t wait to start planning until then, because if it did that, it wouldn’t have time to properly plan, school principal Robyn White said.

Wiregrass Ranch High School assistant principal Shauntte Butcher compares the swarm of students passing through the corridors to the traffic jam at State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard at 5 p.m. (Courtesy of Wiregrass Ranch High School)

Wiregrass Ranch High School assistant principal Shauntte Butcher compares the swarm of students passing through the corridors to the traffic jam at State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard at 5 p.m. (Courtesy of Wiregrass Ranch High School)

School officials have looked at other ideas, she added, but the 10-period day seems to be the best approach for dealing with the school’s burgeoning enrollment.

“While that seems to the most feasible and logical solution right now, we have stayed open to other possibilities,” White said. “We have looked at every suggestion that anybody has given. So far, we haven’t come up with anything better.”

By having a 10-period day, the school can provide a less crowded campus for most of the school day, said White, who has been the school’s principal since it opened in 2006.

When it opened, it had just freshman and sophomores, for a total enrollment of 752. As of last week, the enrollment was 2,333. That figure is expected to grow by least 175 students next school year, bringing the total to nearly 2,500.

Wiregrass Ranch High was built for an enrollment of 1,633. It already has 30 portable classrooms to address the overflow.

The 10-period day would work like this: Sophomores through seniors would begin and end the school day at the same time they do now, 7:25 a.m. and 1:56 p.m., respectively. Freshmen begin at 10:18 a.m., and end at 4:44 p.m.

All of the school’s students would be on campus for three periods each day, but that is manageable because roughly 500 kids are at lunch at any given time, White said. The school now has four lunch periods each day, but will need to add a fifth one next year because of the anticipated enrollment increase.

School officials are aware the new schedule will pose some challenges for parents and for students who are involved in after-school activities. Working parents have voiced concerns that they won’t be able to drop off their children at school because of the later bus runs for freshmen.

The school district is responding to that concern by providing all freshmen the opportunity to ride the bus to school. Normally, those who live too close to school do not qualify for free transportation.

School officials also want to work with parents whose children have special concerns about starting and dismissal times, White said.

There may be a student, for instance, who is heavily involved in dancing or gymnastics after school, White said. It may be impossible for that student to attend practice because of the later dismissal.

There are ways to address that, such as online learning for a period or more, to create flexibility for students to continue pursuing those outside interests, while still meeting academic requirements, White said.

In some cases, the parent would have to provide transportation, in others, it may be possible for the student to ride into school late but leave early.

Every situation will be considered individually, White said, with the aim to be as flexible as possible.

By revising the schedule, the school will be able to take advantage of classroom space that frees up when older students are at lunch or have left the campus for the day, said the school’s assistant principal Shauntte Butcher, who oversees the school’s master schedule.

The overlapping schedule allows students from all four classes to be on campus at once, which White thinks is important. She doesn’t want the freshman class to feel isolated from the rest of the student body.

Relief is needed, though. Between classes, the corridors are so crowded that Butcher has likened them to State Road 56 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard at rush hour.

Even such things as pep rallies get more complicated at a school the size of Wiregrass Ranch, White said.

“Our gym only holds 1,200 seating,” she said. “Right now, when we do a pep rally, like we did last Friday, we have to do two pep rallies. We barely fit in there this year with two. We know next year, we definitely have to go to three.”

The longer school day also will have impacts on athletic practices. For one thing, White is expecting to need to rent portable lights to use for football and soccer practices when it begins to get darker earlier in the day.

To help make sure they are taking a comprehensive approach, a committee meets twice a month to consider the various impacts of a 10-period day. People involved with the planning include teachers, parents and students who have experienced a 10-period school day and those who haven’t, White said.

The idea of using a 10-period day is not new. Land O’ Lakes and Wesley Chapel high schools successfully used the approach before Wiregrass Ranch opened, White said.

Those wanting to find out the latest news also are invited to visit the school’s website at WRHS.Pasco.k12.fl.us, and click on the “overcrowded information” tab.

Published November 19, 2014

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