Commentary by Dr. Lolli Haws: School start, end: Is it time for change? RUSD wants your input

Commentary by Dr. Lolli Haws: School start, end: Is it time for change? RUSD wants your input

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This past December, the Racine Unified School District surveyed our staff. Among the results were two themes that I believe would improve student learning and better support our staff — especially our teachers.

Teachers said they need more time to plan and work together in teams. They want more and better training and professional development to continuously improve their skills to better support student achievement.

We also often meet with our school families. Concerns I hear frequently are that the 2-mile distance our students walk to school is too far for our youngest students and our high school start time is too early.

We have been listening to this input. We’ve consulted with teachers, families, high school department chairs, principals, activities directors and District leaders. This input and collaboration has led to the development of some options that increase teacher planning and student learning time, enhance staff training and improve transportation for our students. As we present these options, it’s important for our community to understand that changes to start and end times, the school calendar and transportation impact each other – one cannot be done without the other. As a whole package, these options present some exciting benefits for our students, families and staff.

School calendar adjustments

If we increase the length of the school day by about 20 minutes at all schools, we could:

1) End school a few days earlier each year during the first week of June.

2) Increase elementary art, music and physical education classes by 10-20 minutes, which also provides more plan time for teachers.

3) Add more time (early or full-day release days) for teacher team planning and curriculum planning work.

4) Create an intervention period at our middle schools for students to receive additional support.

Shifting and Aligning School Start and End Times

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Most of us recognize that young children wake early and are ready to learn but lose energy in the early afternoon. High school and middle school students do not function as well early in the morning because they need more sleep.

If we create consistent start and end times, we can align all school schedules (elementary, middle, high) with developmentally appropriate start times. Our options suggest that elementary schools start around 7:15 a.m., while high schools start later, about 8 a.m. and middle/K-8 schools start at about 9 a.m. These proposals can be found at www.rusd.org.

This change would allow the District to offer teacher training and collaboration at consistent times which we cannot offer currently due to the various dismissal times.

In the options we’ve presented, high schools would end around 3:40 p.m. We recognize that this would impact students in competitive extracurricular events who need to travel. We know this is something we need to resolve. If there is support for this model, we would work with our activities directors and reach out to the WIAA to discuss options.

Transportation

If we change to consistent start and times as described above, the District can save enough money to reduce the walk distance to school to 1.5 miles instead of 2 miles. Also, the average bus ride length would decrease and the longest ride time (currently over an hour for some students) would decrease.

Listening to student, family and staff input

Over the last months and years, many people have shared their ideas and input on these topics. We’ve listened and developed these options to address some of the needs and wants of our community.

This week all RUSD families, staff and high school students received a survey asking for their input on our proposed changes to the calendar, start/end times and transportation.

These options for change have advantages and disadvantages as does the District’s current calendar, start/end times and transportation plan. We are eager to hear what our students, families and staff think. Many of you have shared your voices and I’m thrilled with the number of responses we’ve already received.

We will share the survey results with the Board of Education and community in early April. Whether we make changes for next school year or not will be based on your feedback. We want to provide the opportunities our families and staff are asking for and we are committed to collaborating to achieve these goals. These proposals may not be exactly right just yet. But, I believe that by giving our community this opportunity to share their voices, we will get it right for our students.

We are grateful for your input. We are listening.

Dr. Lolli Haws is superintendent of the Racine Unified School District.

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