Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Schedule Switch for 2016-17

Hello current and future UMS families,


By now, you’ve surely received the news that both Union Middle and Dartmouth will be changing their Wednesday schedule for the 2016-17 school year.


Instead of beginning each Wednesday at 9:30 am (called a “late start schedule”), we will be piloting for the 2016-17 school year an “early release schedule” where students start the day at 8:30 am (just like the other days of the week) but would get out at 1:50 pm (instead of 2:50 pm like the other days of the week).


Please note that this schedule is a pilot. We are not married to it. We are not engaged. I’m not even sure we’re even dating it at this point. We are just exploring the benefits of an “early release schedule” for the upcoming school year.


My two cents: I personally strongly prefer an early release schedule on Wednesday. Here’s why, in no particular order:


The switch to an early release Wednesday will better align our middle schools with the start and end times of our elementary feeder schools. I can’t imagine what Wednesday looks like for a parent who picks up their students from both their elementary school and their middle school. Drop off elementary student at school at 8 am. Go back home to debate with your middle school student about whether or not they’re going to brush their teeth that morning. Leave for UMS at 9 am. Get back home around 9:45. Breathe. Turn around and pick up your elementary school student at 1:15. Drive home. Leave again at 2:20 to pick up your middle school student. Get back home at 3:15. Yikes. Hopefully, with a more aligned schedule throughout the district, we’ll be able to give the gift of time back to some of our families.


The feedback I've heard from our parent community strongly supports a desire to pilot an early release Wednesday. As a principal, I’m constantly listening to what our students, our staff, and our parents have to share. Even if I’m not going to be making a change in the immediate future, there’s a lot of information stored somewhere in the back of my brain based on the comments and concerns of these three significant groups. I know that there will be some students, teachers, and parents who may not like the idea of an early release Wednesday. I’m hopeful, after trying it for a year, that they may change their minds. And again, since it’s a pilot, it’s only scheduled for this one upcoming year.


From my experiences in other districts and in my conversations with our students, there is a strongly likelihood that students will complete their homework assignments after the school day rather than the morning of. It is my hope that students will choose to begin their homework a bit earlier on Wednesdays, given the early release schedule. Imagine every week where your student is done with their homework before 3 pm and they can attend to their activities, enjoy their family dinner, and maybe even watch a bit of Survivor when it returns in the fall. Right now, from my conversations with students and my observations at WOW, there is close to zero homework completion happening. This actually makes sense; it’s too risky to leave homework for the morning when there’s a chance you just won’t have enough time to complete it for first period. Now, this scheduling change could encourage more family nights on Wednesdays with students completing their homework from 2-3 pm, leaving opportunities for their after school activities and family time that evening.


Many of our parents are working parents, needing to be at work on Wednesday by 9 am. With the pilot of an early release Wednesday, working parents will be able to leave the house at the same time as their student. In conversations with parents, there is much concern about leaving a middle schooler at home in the morning by themselves with the expectation they’ll be on time to school. Additionally, we are working with Champions to have their start time on Wednesdays move up to 2 pm to provide extended care for those who may need it for their students.


Our athletic tryouts and practices might be able to start a bit earlier on Wednesdays. Mr. Barbara, our athletic director, and I have already begun discussions on a “sports team study hall” for Wednesdays. This means that students with a 3 pm practice would have a place to work on their assignments under the supervision of a team parent and/or school employee.


The numbers of tardies and absences on Wednesday will substantially decrease. Right now, we have more tardies on Wednesday than on any other day. The late start seems to encourage students to be tardy; I suspect it throws off the consistency of their schedule. We also have an unexplainable higher absence rate on Wednesday than Tuesday or Thursday. We’re hopeful that these data points begin to shift next year with the upcoming pilot.


Teachers will no longer be limited by a teacher duty assignment or the first period bell during their staff and team collaboration times on Wednesday. Currently, our staff meets every Wednesday at 8:05 for 30 minutes. Teams and/or departments then meet until 9:10 when various teachers have parking lot supervision or other teacher duties. For our teachers, this isn’t enough time to discuss their curriculum, how to best support their students, or update each other on student-parent-teacher concerns. There is rarely enough time in the morning to hold ALL meetings or IEP meetings. It’s the deadline of 1st period that complicates matters. With the change to an early release Wednesday, staff will be able to hold IEPs a bit earlier and during the school day. Teachers will be able to stay a bit longer, if they so choose, to discuss their shared students. They won’t be limited by the 1st period bell. It’s a huge difference in best supporting our kids.


There is the opportunity for some of our after school activities to start a bit earlier on Wednesday, allowing for more students to participate multiple activities. Every year, we run into conflicts with student’s schedules when it comes to their after school activities. With the early release, we’ll be able to look at moving some of these after school activities, whether it be choir, drama, or field hockey, to an earlier start time. This means that a student will be more likely to be able to participate in more than one activity, if they so choose.


And from my own perspective, I’ve worked at two other middle schools with an early release Wednesday. I’ve reached out to them during the months the possible pilot was being discussed. Both schools shared that they loved their early release Wednesdays, that the parent community was hesitant at first but eventually came to treasure the extra hour their students would have before their “after school activities” began. Neither school is considering a change from their early release Wednesdays. Both schools say that an early release Wednesday gave them an opportunity to explore different programs and additional supports for their students. That’s how I see the shift: an opportunity. A chance to see if the switch to an early release wednesday is better for our students, our staff, and our parent community. And if not, that’s ok. It’s just a pilot.


The worst words in education are “but we’ve always done it this way”. To me, if you’re not constantly looking to improve upon your practice and just standing still, you’re losing ground. I’m hopeful that the shift from a late start to an early release will benefit our school community. Thanks for listening as we give it a try.


Your feedback and thoughts, positive or otherwise, is already appreciated. Back to practicing my graduation speech for tomorrow. :)

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