In the coming weeks, the will be charged with weighing the wants and needs of the administration and teachers against the concerns of several district parents.
And it all boils down to altering a given school week by an hour or two.
Administrators, teachers and parents discussed the 2012-13 school calendar proposal for 1 hour, 40 minutes at Monday’s School Board meeting, two weeks in advance of the board possibly taking action on the proposal.
At the center of the discussion are professional learning communities, collaborative opportunities for teachers to meet on a more regular basis.
But allowing teachers time to work together would result in noticeable changes to what the Whitnall community is used to.
Under the newest proposal, start times for all three school levels – high school, middle school and elementary school – would change.
The high school day would shift from a 7:15 a.m. start and 2:18 p.m. dismissal to 7:45 a.m. start and a 2:45 p.m. dismissal. The middle school would shift from 7:45 a.m./2:50 p.m. to 8 a.m./3:05 p.m. and the elementary schools would move from 8:40 a.m./3:22 p.m. to 8:30 a.m./3:15 p.m.
But new start times don’t appear to be the most contentious aspect of the proposal. That distinction belongs to late starts and early dismissals. On the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month, the high school and middle school would start one hour later, and the elementary schools would experience an early release by an hour every Wednesday.
The late starts and early releases are required for professional learning communities, or PLCs, where a “team of educators interact on a consistent basis with a clear, far-reaching goal with maximizing student achievement the top priority,” according to the district’s presentation Monday.
PLCs could be made up of clusters of administrators and teachers who frequently work with the same or similar group of students, and allow those educators time to analyze and compare data, work to develop curriculum consistency, address individual strengths and needs of students, and collaboratively do a number of other tasks.
“(PLCs) allow you to be with your colleagues in real time, not two, three weeks later,” Edgerton Elementary principal Chris D’Aquisto said.
Several parents spoke Monday about how they saw the value of the PLCs, but dreaded the headaches late starts and early releases would cause for them. Parents with children in both middle and elementary school, for example, would be faced with both late starts and early releases two Wednesdays a month.
“We want the PLCs. We think it’s a great opportunity for teachers to get together and make better learning opportunities for our kids,” Whitnall parent Jeff Thiele said. “But the logistics stink. If they have been looking at this for seven years, why haven’t they worked out the logistics over that time.”
Among parents’ concerns is the potential financial burden placed on families that need children supervised during the late starts and/or early releases. The district said it would provide no- or low-cost options for students who have to be at school during the early releases or late starts.
Potential partnerships with the YMCA or the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department were mentioned, and either option could include classes, activities or enrichment opportunities.
“We know that there will be required planning on the part of families,” Green said. “We want to be careful that we consider the community – they are our constituency and we want to make sure we're not hurting anybody.”
As of now, however, the district does not have any specific before- or after-school plans in place, which is raising concerns.
“No one has said that the concept is a bad idea,” board member Stephanie Richter said. “Everyone is excited about the kids getting more (individual) time … but the impact on families can’t be dismissed either. We’re asking them to make decisions without specific answers.”
“If you’re putting stress on the families like this, it’s not the best thing for the kids,” said Tim Boyle, a father of elementary school and middle school children. “It’s not a very simple, straightforward thing. The rush is a concern to me. … It’s better to take the time and do it right. Right now it’s, ‘Let us vote on it, pass it and we’ll get the details later.’ That’s not fair to us; that’s not the right approach to this.”
Editor's Note: To see what the Greenfield School District did in 2011 about its start times, . And for recent blog about school start times by a local expert, .