With only a “slim chance” of Riverhead High School returning to a nine-period day next year, the high school and district administration are looking into alternatives that would allow students to take additional elective classes, Riverhead High School principal Charles Regan said Thursday night at a three-hour community forum on the recent switch from nine to eight periods.

Regan told parents and students that two non-traditional ideas are currently on the table: “blended instruction” classes — which would allow students to take two classes in one period — and a “flexed” ninth period — 2:05 to 2:50 p.m., when selected courses for each grade would be offered.

The “blended” class would be initiated on a pilot basis next year with a dozen 12th-grade students, Regan said. They would alternate English and social studies in the same classroom during the same period. The students would have English two days per week and social studies two days per week. Fridays would be be office hours where students could meet with the teachers individually or in groups. In addition to the class time, the students would be required to participate in online education as well.

The flexed ninth period would be an option where select courses at each grade level would be offered during an optional ninth period.

Parent Colin Tooker said the district doesn’t seem to be really considering moving back to a nine-period day. “I’m sort of a straight shooter,” Tooker said. “I would just like to ask for the record, is the nine-period day on the table? Will you say the nine-period day is on the table as an option as well as the other options?”

“It’s a slim option,” Regan answered.

“We’re all just wasting our time,” Tooker said.

The principal said he wouldn’t have recommended moving to an eight-period day if he didn’t believe in it. It’s important to reduce study halls as well as increase instructional time.

Regan explained the decision to switch back to an eight-period day — the high school moved from eight to nine periods in the 2005-2006 school year — was driven by the combination of increased enrollment (186 new students), staff reductions (the elimination of 11 teaching positions) and a large increase in the number of students — 1,000 —in study halls.

“There’s a perception out there that those students want those study halls. That’s not necessarily true,” Regan said. “With the reduction of staff, we didn’t have places to put a lot of these students.”

Reducing the number of students in study halls was one of the key factors in the decision, the principal said. But another benefit would be increased instructional time with the addition of six minutes to each of the eight periods — a 14 percent increase in instructional time, the equivalent of 26 additional instruction periods, he said.

Students and parents had mixed reactions to the ideas outlined by Regan.

Many students pointed out that the flex program in particular posed many problems for students who are trying to participate in extra curricular activities.

“Solve a problem, create a problem; there are things that would have to be looked at,” Regan responded.

A common thread of concern among parents and students centered around the increasing need for students to be well-rounded when applying to colleges in the competitive world of college admissions. Some worried that a flex schedule would prevent students from participating in the extra curricular activities that colleges look for in “well-rounded” applicants in order to take classes that they also need to enhance college admission prospects.

Laura Jacques, mother of sophomore student Alyssa, explained how she recently spoke with SUNY Albany regarding what is needed for her daughter to be accepted into the degree program she’s interested in pursuing. What she discovered is that although the high school considered her daughter to have met her math requirements as of this year, in order to gain admittance, her daughter would be required to take additional classes, more than can easily be fit into a typical eight-period schedule.

“Colleges are making requirements harder and harder,” Jacques said. “Unfortunately, now we’re in the situation – where do we get the education? Because, colleges are expecting the high schools to cover it and high school is expecting that you’re going to get it in college when you go into your major. It all falls on us to try and advocate.”

Most of the parents and students lamented the lack of lunch periods for students who must choose between lunch and another class period. Students described getting in trouble for eating in class and in other  situations where students were given passes to get lunch by the time the students have returned they may have missed as much as 15 minutes of the class.

Emily Behr, who is the salutatorian of this year’s graduating class, said “Because of the nine periods I was able to take a lunch, I’ve had a lunch all four years, which is a personal requirement of mine.” Behr described how with the nine-period day she was still able to also take advanced classes as well as explore many of the available electives which have helped her explore her options.

NJROTC students present expressed concerns about the future of the program. They fear not being able to maintain the minimum enrollment of 100 students required to continue to have the NJROTC program.

The requests for scheduling NJROTC next year puts the potential enrollment at 126 students, administrators said.

Regan reminded parents that the budget proposal for next year includes the hiring of a handful of additional teachers, which would allow for some of the electives to be brought back. Student requests help the administration decide which electives are offered. AP European History will be brought back for the first time in years next year, due to the number of requests for it, the principal said. AP Art History may be brought back next year for the first time in at least seven years, Regan said, also due to student demand, spurred by the efforts of sophomore Shannon Zeltmann.

Some students were frustrated with the proposed options, such as Gwen, a junior who said “the solutions you proposed are patches.”

A number of students argued that switching to an eight-period day did not increase instructional time as much as administrators believe, because those additional six minutes are not fully utilized.

“The extra six minutes of class time don’t give you 26 more periods of instruction time. While that’s what it adds up to, that’s not what it equates,” sophomore Zachary Bozuhoski said. “The longer periods don’t make much difference.” Other students claimed the extra time is not being utilized at all.

Regan said he would look into that further, because teachers are expected to teach bell to bell.

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Dawn is a graphic artist, designer and editorial assistant with many years of newsroom experience. A mother of four, Dawn is a Girl Scout leader and a longtime Riverhead resident. Email Dawn