Archives for March 2012

Some high school students are too busy to schedule a lunch period

According to the Skokie, IL Patch, about 300 students at Niles and and Niles North High Schools have schedules so packed that they do not include a lunch period.  Kaine Osburn, the principal at Niles West High School, told reporter Michael Martini that some students are trying to arrange their schedules so that they can come in late or leave early, but most are trying to take another course such as an extra fine arts elective or another honors level course.

Some students in District 219 get what’s called a “homeroom lunch,” or permission to go to the cafeteria to buy food during their homeroom period. Others pack a bag lunch and eat in homeroom or in another class, with the permission of the teacher.

Area principals and counselors discourage students from leaving a lunch period out of their schedule. The high schools require students whose schedules do not include lunch to get permission from their parents.

Scotland requires two hours of PE per week

The Scottish government recently pledged that every primary school student should have at least two hours a physical education a week. The government gave local councils almost £6 million ($9.5 million) to meet the target by 2014. reported that the government also wants all students in the first four years of secondary school should have at least two weekly periods of PE of about 55 minutes each.

Students to switch to half-day Wednesdays so teachers have time for PLCs

The four public schools in Morgan County, Utah, will have half-day sessions every Wednesday next year. The school board recently voted that the high school and middle school will have late starts and the elementary schools will have early dismissals.

Deanne Winterton, Standard Examiner correspondent, reports that the move makes way for implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) as well as simplified scheduling.

Both elementary schools currently have an early Thursday release, while the middle school has a late Wednesday start. The high school does not have either right now.

For related articles, see Professional Learning Communities do not need to resort to early dismissals of students, and Oregon school district implements early-release Mondays.

Allowing parents to make solid plans is cited as reason for keeping the scheduled last day of school

The school year in two Kentucky school districts is set to end on time even though there was a drastic decline in snow days.  Bowling Green Daily News  reports that in the last 12 years, Warren County Public Schools has had an average of 5.2 snow days a year. There were 10 snow days in 2009-10 and 15 last year.  The one snow day this year was made up on Presidents Day.

Last year Bowling Green Independent Schools had seven snow days. This year there was a one-hour delay January 13, but no days were missed because of snow. The school year in both districts is set to end on May 24, as previously scheduled.  Joanie Hendricks, the public relations coordinator for Warren County Schools, told reporter Laurel Wilson, “That allows parents to make solid graduation and summer plans.”

For news on how other school districts are planning for the end of the school year, see  John Blankenship blasts backward-thinking school districts for shortening the school year, Fairfax proposal for earlier end to school year needs more explanations, School districts decide whether to shorten the school year, A shorter school year could be burdensome to some parents and detrimental to their kids.

Fairfax County high schools start too early

Should the Fairfax County school board set a goal of later high school start times? Yes.  A resolution that will be introduced March 29, with a vote scheduled April 12, states, “because of the benefits to student health, well-being, and performance, it is a goal of the Fairfax County School Board to achieve high school start times after 8 a.m.”

Also, the school board should direct Superintendent Dale to identify and provide a list of practices in school divisions that start high schools after 8 a.m. This report should describe how these districts schedule elementary, middle, and high schools; arrange transportation; and schedule sports and after-school activities.

Currently the earliest start time is at 7:20 for high schools. Buses are scheduled to drop off high school students at least 20 minutes, and as much as 35 minutes, prior to the start of school in the morning. There have already been two task forces that studied this issue. The most recent task force report was issued March 10, 2008. It called for the earliest start time to be at 7:50 for elementary schools. A later more detailed staff proposal with complete bell schedules for all schools was controversial. The school board did not go ahead with seeking a revised plan for later start times for all secondary schools; however, there have been some changes in the bell schedules for some schools.

Henrico County demonstrates how to adjust school schedules

Other school districts should study the way that Henrico County decided to adjust school schedules for the coming year. The plan was approved by the school board March 22. I have copied the information from one of the agenda items for the work session that was held before the regular school board meeting.

The following document, titled “Adjusting School Day 2,” is one of the attachments included in the agenda item details for “Adjusting School Day Schedules for 2012-2013,” March 22, 2012, Work Session, 2:30 p.m.

Adjusting HCPS School Day Schedules

The Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) plans to adjust current school schedules for the 2012-2013 school year. Adjustments are necessary in order to:

• increase instructional time for students, specifically for elementary students,

• provide additional planning time for elementary teachers, and

• improve transportation efficiencies (arrival and departure times).

The school division is seeking input on proposed changes so that adjustments will result in the best educational programming possible and be supportive of our school community. After reviewing the information that follows, stakeholders are encouraged to provide feedback on the proposed changes using the survey link at the end of this information.


Time to Teach

Over the years, required curricular and program demands have increased significantly and continue to do so. Many elementary teachers have said there is just not enough time in the school day to teach everything that is required.

The school division conducted a survey of the 17 largest school divisions in Virginia and found that of the 17 divisions, HCPS has the shortest elementary school day. The HCPS elementary day is 5:45 hours (excluding lunch) while the average of the 17 districts is 6:10 hours. When considered over a 180-day school year, students in elementary schools in those school divisions have a significant advantage over Henrico students.

Time to Plan

Elementary teachers in HCPS need additional planning time. Unlike their secondary school counterparts, there is very little time during the school day to support planning, preparation, and collaboration with colleagues so they must depend on time before and after school. Currently, the time before and after school has many teachers supervising students when they could be planning because the current schedule/system requires double bus runs. Students who arrive early or stay late because of a double bus run must be supervised and this encroaches on teachers’ planning. It is also lost time for students who spend time waiting for school to start or to be picked up by a bus in the afternoon. [Read more…]

Henrico teachers requested a longer elementary school day

In my previous post,  I left out one of the most significant aspects of Randy Hallman’s report about the longer school day for elementary school students in Henrico County. In classic newspaper style, Hallman led his Richmond Times Dispatch story with the key point—

In response to teachers’ requests for more instruction and planning time, and to help bus drivers stay on schedule, Henrico County will lengthen the school day for elementary school students by 15 minutes starting with the next school year.

The fact that a longer school day was approved in response to teachers’ request for more instruction and planning time is fascinating. How did this consensus develop?  Other school districts should study the reform methods in Henrico County.  The school division sought input from a task force of elementary teachers, a task force of elementary parents, middle and high school principals, elementary principals, and key leaders in central office.  Could having two separate task forces, one for teachers, the other for parents, be one of the keys to productive problem solving?

I hope the Fairfax County school board studies the Henrico example closely. Perhaps Fairfax could persuade the Henrico superintendent, Patrick J. Russo, to consider taking over as superintendent in Fairfax.

Correction: The original version of this article misspelled “Hallman” in the second sentence.

Henrico elementary schools to have longer day

The Henrico County school board voted unanimously Thursday to add fifteen minutes to the elementary school day and reduce the middle school day by ten minutes and the high school day by five minutes.  The changes will take effect at the start of the next school year. Randy Hallman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that currently the elementary school student’s day lasts six hours and 15 minutes.

This year elementary school starts at 7:50 a.m. and ends at 2:05 p.m.  Next year the elementary schools will be divided into two groups. One group will start at 7:40 a.m. and finish at 2:10 p.m. The other will start at 8:10 a.m. and finish at 2:40 p.m.

According to the Times Dispatch, the county asked the state’s other larger school systems about the length of their elementary school day. “We got 17 replies,” Schools Superintendent Patrick J. Russo  said, “and guess what: We had the shortest day of them all.”

I posted the following online comment:

Perhaps Fairfax County, the largest school district in the state, did not reply to this questionnaire. The elementary school students in Fairfax County attend school for 30 hours and 50 minutes per week—this is the equivalent of six hours and 10 minutes per day if it were evenly distributed each day. These short hours are due to the Monday early dismissal policy in Fairfax County elementary schools. Currently some elementary school students in Fairfax County are in school for six hours and 35 minutes per day Tuesday through Friday, while others are in school for six hours and 40 minutes. On Mondays, these students are in school either four hours and 30 minutes or four hours and 10 minutes.
Henrico County is setting a good example in providing more time for students. Fairfax, please take note!

Here is information on the school hours in Henrico County

School hours

Elementary 7:50 a.m.-2:05 p.m.
Middle 8:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m.
High 8:45 a.m.-3:45 p.m.
(Early bird classes start 7:30 a.m. for high schools)

School hours for half day dismissal times

Elementary Schools – 11:15 a.m.
Middle Schools – 12:00 noon
High Schools – 12:45 p.m.
* Times may vary between schools; check with your child’s school for actual dismissal time.

Here is a link to the 2011-2012 calendar, which appears to indicate that there are four half-day dismissals–

Correction: An earlier version of this post said “starts and” rather than “starts at” in the second paragraph.

John Blankenship blasts backward-thinking school districts for shortening the school year

West Virginia schools had very few snow days this year. Columnist John Blankenship, writing in The Register-Herald, criticizes school districts for adjusting schedules for the rest of the academic year to make sure there aren’t more than 180 instructional days.  He notes that some schools are taking off every Friday for rest of the school year:  “This is backwards thinking, period.”

“Why can’t the kids be in the classroom and learning those extra days since the weather has given us a break,” Blankenship asks.  “You don’t have to go back very long to find out during the last two academic years that plenty of instructional days were missed and never made up. Apparently that doesn’t matter.”

I agree. A shorter school year could be burdensome to some parents and detrimental to their kids. In Virginia, the Fairfax County school board should reject Superintendent Dale’s hastily assembled proposal to end school early.

Fairfax proposal for earlier end to school year needs more explanations

Further details on Superintendent Jack Dale’s proposal that the Fairfax County school year should end four days earlier in June have been posted. The proposal says that June 15, 2012, would be the last full student day. The previously scheduled last student day, June 19, had been planned as an early release day. It is interesting that the administration considers it to be quite feasible to have a full day for students on the last day of school. Perhaps the old tradition of just having the kids swoop by the school for a brief time on the last day could be reconsidered in future years. (It would be interesting to find out when FCPS started the tradition of having an abbreviated day on the last day of school.)

I am puzzled by the statement that June 18 and 19 would be reassigned as teacher workdays. That would mean there would be three teacher workdays–June 18, 19, and 20.  There are lots of teachers who are retiring or who are not planning to return to school next year. Will they really be expected to work for three days after the students have left for the summer? Will any teachers really be expected to work for three additional days?  Principals have discretion to allow teachers to work from home on teacher workdays. Will there be any principals who try to insist that all teachers work at school for those three days?

The administration proposal says, “The early release of students will provide teachers two additional workdays to complete end-of-year assignments, school improvement planning, teacher planning, and collaborative team planning, and any other workload relief that can be accomplished in the schools.”

Many of the “collaborative teams” will have new members in September. How much “teacher planning” is needed after the students leave? Just how urgent is school improvement planning? Wouldn’t the best workload relief be to simply have two additional paid holidays? It would seem to be more realistic to propose to designate June 18 as a teacher workday and June 19 and 20 as holidays for the teachers.

The agenda item is oddly silent on the cost savings of eliminating two days of attendance by students. The school board should be given complete information on the number of employees who would not be paid June 18 and 19 and the projected cost savings. [Read more…]