Late start Weds. for MI schools
November 24, 2008 · Updated 4:01 PM
Once again, the Mercer Island School District is readjusting its academic schedule. As of the 2008-2009 school year, Wednesday will be designated as a “late-start day” for all students, K-12, and will begin an hour and a half behind regular schedule.
The recently proposed time change, which will replace the current “early-release Mondays,” is the product of collective bargaining between the Mercer Island School District and the teachers union.
Administrators’ primary interest, according to Interim Superintendent Gary Plano, is to provide students time in the morning to catch up on homework, doctors’ appointments, enrichment activities, and — particularly in the case of high school students — sleep.
“Research shows that adolescents benefit from additional sleep in the morning,” said Plano. “This was a strong interest of the board — to give secondary students that extra time.”
Teachers were also a top consideration. With 90 minutes open before school, teachers can prepare for the day’s activities and catch up on student paperwork. In addition, part-time staff are more available in the morning to participate in faculty development activities. Overall, afternoons are a busy time for staff and therefore difficult to coordinate meetings.
“It was a delicate balance, but we thought teachers — especially those who coach or lead after-school activities — would be more available in the morning,” Plano said, adding that the School Board first discussed the topic last year with former superintendent Cyndy Simms.
But not everyone is happy about the proposal; elementary school teachers and parents, in particular.
“Late-start days are not as good for elementary kids and their families because children tend to be perkier in the morning. Teachers see this as prime instructional time,” said Lakeridge Principal Ralph Allen. “I see this as becoming a major adjustment, and teachers are becoming concerned.”
Due to financial and logistical constraints, having a separate schedule for the Island’s primary and secondary schools — early release for K-5 and late-start for middle and high school— is out of the question, Allen added.
“If it were easy, we would have done this, but it’s not,” the Lakeridge principal said, pointing out that bus transportation would have to be reorganized entirely, which is both costly and complicated.
According to Allen, who is part of the MISD collective bargaining team, the late-start Wednesday proposal was not openly discussed among Island faculty and community. Now that the word is out, he added, a number of teachers and parents have expressed concern.
“So far, there have been no formal meetings on the decision — just discussion. It only became a topic of concern after being announced to the community last week,” Allen said.
“Now that people have realized what these words mean, there’s a lot of energy out there and most appears negative,” he added.
Although the new schedule is officially set, there is still the possibility for change. The School Board, working alongside the PTA, is currently looking into the effects that a late-start day may have on students and parents. They have a list of questions they wish to have answered before the change is finalized.
The questons were compiled into a public survey and distributed via PTA listserv yesterday. Parents and students are encouraged to complete the online “late-start impact” questionnaire, which can be accessed on the school Web site, Plano said.
“Once this information is collected, it will be analyzed and reported to the board so we can decide whether we wish to revisit the late-start option in collective bargaining,” the superintendent explained.
Meanwhile, students have their own opinion.
Ashley Bobman, an eighth grader at Islander Middle School, said that she would not welcome the change.
“I like the way it is now,” she said, referring to the Monday early-release days. “I get my homework done on Mondays before I go to Island Sound [girls choir] at 4 o’clock. I would be a lot less likely to get up early on Wednesdays to get anything done before school.”
To access the survey and other information on the change, go to www.misd.k12.wa.us.