ALLPORT — Students at the West Branch Area School District will see a revised schedule in 2019-20 that included different start and end times, as well as a few changes throughout the day.
During Monday’s monthly board meeting, Superintendent Michelle Dutrow highlighted the administration’s proposal and the reasons behind the changes.
Dutrow said each year they take a look at what can be improved and they have been asked “on several occasions” by consultants from the state Department of Education if the district had ever considered implementing later start times. At the legislative level, Dutrow said there is also potential interest in Harrisburg that would take a statewide look at school start times, as a commission has already been put together.
Students in the high school currently start the day at 7:25 a.m. and end at 2:16 p.m. In 2019-20, those at the high school and the newly implemented middle school of grades 5-8 will start at 8 a.m. and finish at 2:40 p.m. Dutrow admitted the research shows that an 8:30 a.m. start time would be “ideal,” but said they would be “hard pressed to make such a drastic shift” from previous years.
Currently, Dutrow said there are some high school students in far reaches of the district that have to catch the bus as early as 6:05 a.m., citing an “extremely lengthy school day” if the students are also involved with extracurricular activities. Dutrow also said research shows that students at the high school level would benefit from extra sleep. With the new times, the earliest high school students would be boarding buses shortly before 7 a.m.
“An additional hour of sleep could be very, very meaningful for them in terms of their physical well-being at that age group,” Dutrow said. “There’s also research that supports the fact that quality sleep directly impacts positive student achievement.”
At the elementary, current start/end times are at 8:30 a.m. and 3:10 p.m. Changes for 2019-20 will be a 9 a.m. start and a 3:25 p.m. dismissal. For high school employees/teachers, they will now end the day at 3:05 p.m. instead of 2:45 p.m. In the elementary, they will end at 3:45 p.m. instead of 3:30 p.m.
Dutrow said when comparing times from 2018-19 to 2019-20, things don’t necessarily add up at first glance. However, there are ways throughout the day where time will be allocated differently.
Athletic Director/Pupil Services Coordinator Dave Williamson said on the transportation end, they have had good conversations with all involved. The “first run” would include middle and high school students — as Williamson also stated those in grades 5-6 would be seated in the front to prevent from mixing in with older students — and the “second run” includes the elementary.
Williamson said they will now have a “very advantageous turnaround time” from first run drop off to second round completion.
“With some minor rerouting and some minor tweaks, we’re looking to a 40-45 minute range that we can get back here to drop off the elementary students,” Williamson said, mentioning the current schedule allows for approximately an hour.
Dutrow said many of the buses currently sit at the school after first run in order to make the time for the second run. The alterations would then eliminate much of, if not all of, that time.
Dutrow said to compensate for the rest of the time, they have also done schedule revisions throughout the day — particularly at the high school.
“We took at look at the master schedule and there were three places where we found some room where we could make some changes and not decrease the instructional minutes,” Dutrow said.
Dutrow said the morning “holding time” — the time students enter the building to the time home room starts — will be reduced.
“A majority of our students prefer the ‘grab and go’ breakfast that The Nutrition Group provides to us,” Dutrow said. “So that’s one way we can shorten the time period a little bit.”
A couple minutes will then be shaved off of the home room period that’s used to take attendance and make announcements. The final area is the amount of time in between classes will be slightly shortened.
“If you keep in mind, the high school will be in a more confined area starting next year,” Dutrow said with the creation of the middle school. “It will not be as spread out over the high school facility. Likewise, the middle school will be in a more confined area. Therefore, they don’t necessarily need as long as they do now because they won’t be covering as much physical ground to move from one class to another.”
Dutrow was adamant that with the schedule changes, the amount of instructional time would remain the same.
In making the shift, Dutrow also said they are aware this could be an issue to some parents that drop off students, particularly in the elementary. With documentation, Dutrow said the district already allows those students to be dropped off 45 minutes prior to the start of the student day and they will continue to do this.
Questions also arose about how ending the school day later would affect students that are dismissing early for athletics. Grades 7-8 would not have any “core academics” scheduled for the end of the day. For grades 9-12 — especially grades 11-12 — that can be a different animal.
Dutrow said some students are in co-op programs, attending the Clearfield County Career and Technology Center, and others are actually taking college credits. Because of that, it is “nearly impossible” to control schedules. However, Dutrow said they will try to achieve a balance.