The devil is in the details

Task Force continues exploring alternative school schedules

An example of a multi-track, year-round school calendar from Washoe County School District in Nevada.

At this week’s Long Range Facilities Task Force meeting, community members gathered to discuss their final three options before they begin the process of making their final recommendation to the School Board in March 2019.

Multi-track, year-round schools

The Los Angeles and San Diego Unified School Districts, as well as some districts in Hawaii are using multi-track, year-round school schedules.

Districts tend to opt for one of two multi-track calendars:

1. Quarter system, where students go to school for 60 days and then are off for 20 days

2. Trimester system, where students go to school for 45 days and then are off for 15 days

When our district used a multi-track, year-round calendar from 1974–1981, we used the trimester system of 45/15.

The Task Force focused part of their discussion on some of the expected challenges from a multi-track calendar. These included daycare, athletics and special education programs.

That said, this model would give our district a 25% capacity gain in the buildings, which would significantly help with the overcrowding we are seeing. It might even be enough to reduce class sizes and get kids out of portables.

Staffing, however, would be challenge. Not only would more staff be needed, but convincing people to come work for the only district in Washington state that was on a year-round calendar could be a tough task.

“80% of our teachers do not live in the Bethel School District,” Board Member Brenda Rogers said at the meeting. “If they have children in another district and are teaching in Bethel, that could create some serious scheduling problems for them.”

As far as the academic impact on students, there wasn’t a clear consensus in the research the group did. They didn’t hear of any lack of quality in the educational outcomes, but no one said there was improvement either.

“There is not a loss in learning, as long as you have well-designed lessons,” said Dr. Jennifer Bethman, who completed her Master’s thesis in alternative school scheduling.

The Task Force also had questions about the impact the year-round calendar would have on our facilities, and a bigger question was raised about financial support from the state to help make the transition.

“The state’s model for funding is based on a traditional calendar,” said Superintendent Tom Seigel. “We would be the only district in the state that’s on a year-round calendar.”

Double shifting

The Task Force also discussed two different types of double shifting.

1. Two shifts per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. For example, K-2 goes in the morning and 3–5 goes in the afternoon.

2. A daily schedule, where one shift goes Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and the second shift goes Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Either way, the calendar would have to be adjusted to make sure each shift met the state’s minimum required instructional hours.

Bethel Junior High double shifted for a time back when Cougar Mountain was being built. Jennifer Bethman was principal at the time and said one of the struggles was teachers having to share classrooms.

“It sounds like an easy thing, to run two schools, but it was a real challenge when we did that,” she said.

Some of the major concerns raised about double shifting had to do with safety for the early morning and later evening shifts, especially in winter. Questions were also raised about finding time for after-school sports and activities; as well as transportation.

Transportation came up frequently during the evening. For double shifting it was anticipated that the district would have to buy ⅓ more buses to meet the demand, assuming they could find enough drivers.

Turning elementary & middle schools to K-8 schools

Districts in Colorado and Louisiana have gone to a K-8 model, including Boulder Valley, where Tom Siegel was superintendent before he came to Bethel in 2001.

Seigel talked about the success of the K-8 model when the schools were built for it from the ground up. “We don’t have that luxury here in Bethel,” he said.

Our buildings would have to be modified in order to make the new system work, adding science labs to the elementary schools, and kindergarten-sized bathrooms to the middle schools. Gymnasiums would also have to be configured to give all students across the district equitable access.

There were some safety concerns with the K-8 model, and questions surrounding extra-curricular activities and sports for the different age groups.

More to come in January

The devil is in the details, as they say, and after a long discussion, all three alternative schedules advanced to the next round and will be discussed further when the Task Force meets again on January 10, 2019.

More information is available at bethelsd.org/Task Force

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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