School start and end times in the Bellingham School District are changing for the 2011-12 school year, with elementary students starting earlier, middle school students starting later, and high school students having a choice.
The new start and end times of school for the 2011-12 school year are:
High school: 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., with an option for students to attend from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students would be responsible for their own transportation on the later schedule.
Elementary school: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., except for Wednesdays, when dismissal will be 1:15 p.m.
Middle school: 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Before making the decision, Superintendent Greg Baker put the plan out to the community, asking for input and suggestions on how to improve school schedules while staying within budget and transportation constraints. Comments varied, with some people pleased by the new schedules and others worried about how it will affect their work schedules and student lives.
“It’s a better solution that our status quo which isn’t working,” Baker said Friday morning, March 18. “After looking at all the different aspects of it and getting as many different opinions and points of view and looking at it from different angles, this proposal does the best job of meeting the concerns.”
The district needs to keep the school levels starting at different times because there isn’t money to purchase enough buses to eliminate one start time. About 45 minutes is needed between the different school schedules to accommodate the bus runs.
The weekly early release at the elementary level was developed in an effort to keep budget costs down while slightly increasing the length of the school day. By contract, elementary teachers receive 225 minutes of planning time each week. During the school day, students would have 160 minutes each week with PE, music and library specialists, giving classroom teachers some of their planning time. To make up the other 65 minutes without having to hire additional specialists for pull-out time, students would be dismissed early once a week. Teachers would use part of the afternoon time for planning and the other time would be used for school-wide meetings and professional development.
Baker admits middle school students end up having the least-desirable schedule, with most people across the district wanting the 8:30 a.m. start time.
“It’s an overwhelming step in the right direction to try to improve a number of things,” Baker said, “but it’s not perfect.”
This is the second time in two years that school schedules have been changed. For the 2010-11 school year, elementary school schedules changed to have all students start at 9:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. The reasoning behind the change was to eliminate the need for mid-day bus runs for younger grades and to create equitable planning time for all elementary teachers, regardless of grade.
Baker and other district officials wanted to change the schools schedule after hearing a lot of negative feedback from elementary school families about the later start time. Some high school students, families and staff have long asked for a later start time, saying 7:45 is too early for many teenagers.
Baker said he and other district officials will continue to work on the schedules, in hopes of developing ones that work for everyone and doesn’t require one group of students to be stuck with an undesirable time.
“Theoretically… if we’re able to get everyone on one start time, or two, even though it would be disruptive to do it again, if it’s better… we heard from the community to do it,” Baker said about schedules potentially changing again in the future.
Baker hopes community groups and school PTAs work to create before-school activities for middle schoolers and after-school activities for elementary schoolers on Wednesdays. He’s already been approached by some people wanting to do arts enrichment, and the YMCA is discussing having a Wednesday Adventures Camp program for elementary students.
“I encourage people to think creatively about what kind of opportunities this opens,” he said.