When Anne L. Dodd's term ends on the Howard County Board of Education this year, the board will lose its only member who has indicated any support for one of the hottest demands of county high school students and their parents: the seven-period day.
But the woman who will succeed Dodd after the Nov. 6 election -- either Susan J. Cook or Sandra H. French -- is likely to help keep the issue alive. Both Cook and French have said in campaign appearances that many college-bound students need to take additional courses beyond the six currently permitted.
Students contend that to fulfill both increased state graduation requirements and college entrance demands, they must take additional academic courses and often have to forgo electives.
Centennial High School, the only school that allows its students to enroll in a seventh course, has been ordered by the school administration to phase out the seventh class. The extra period was created in part by shortening all periods by five minutes, to 50 minutes.
Administrators, who are looking at countywide alternatives to the six-period day, said Centennial's class sizes have become too large. They also cite the cost of paying for additional teacher time.
About one-sixth of Centennial's students elected to take a seventh class last year, the 12th year the option was offered. Demand for additional classes has spread to other high schools, and the county Council of PTAs has made the seven-period day its top priority.
French, 46, a former English teacher in the Anne Arundel County schools and now a substitute teacher in Howard County, said she is "totally behind the implementation of a seven-period day . . . . Our students really need . . . the option."
Though she once supported the alternatives of night or after-school courses, she said she now thinks those alternatives are, as one parent told her, "a cruel joke for students who don't have the financial means or transportation access to take advantange of those opportunities."
Cook, 42, said she supports the concept of a seventh period if students are allowed a choice of subjects, including music and other electives, not just strictly academic courses such as math and science.
"There are an awful lot of students having a hard time handling the six courses we now have . . . . I can't do anything with a clear conscience that will put more stress on some students who can't handle it . . . . We don't want anybody to be overburdened," she said.
Cook, a Columbia resident who is a part-time secretary at Patuxent Valley Middle School, has been president of three PTAs in Columbia. A legal secretary by profession, she said she took the job at Patuxent Valley because she "wanted insight into what the school system really did. Boy, did I get an eyeful!"
"I think the biggest eye-opener has simply been in the waste of money," she said.
Cook said that as a board member, she would make education of "the average child" one of her priorties because "they've been overlooked too long."
She also said she wants the system to show more sensitivity toward parents and students, especially disabled children. As the only board member living in Columbia, she said, she would reflect the diversity of that community in her dealings with the school system.
French, an Ellicott City resident with two children in school, formerly headed the county PTA Council. She said the most important issue the board faces is meeting the state's new school performance and testing requirements without creating additional bureaucratic burdens for teachers.
"We need to make sure students are not involved with more tests . . . without really learning," she said.