School district looking for feedback at town halls, online survey
The school district will be holding town hall meetings and conducting an online survey to receive community input on a variety of topics. The town halls will be held at Douglas High School on Monday and at Pau Wa Lu Middle School on Feb, 27. The meetings, that will start at 5:30 p.m., will begin with a brief presentation by the superintendent followed by a period when the community can provide input to the school board.
As a school board, it’s our desire for the district to provide the best education possible for each student who attends one of our schools. New data and studies often claim that there’s a better way of doing things. For example, a few years ago we implemented a “balanced calendar” that added two one-week vacations during the school year and shortened the summer by two weeks. This schedule, it was argued, would improve student performance. Among other benefits, the one-week vacations would allow schools to provide remediation for struggling students, would reduce the “summer slide” (the amount a student regresses during the summer), and would provide needed breaks for teachers to recharge. Although I know that not everybody loves the new schedule, I believe that the balanced calendar has been positive for our students and staff.
Education, like most things, is subject to trends. Currently, one of the biggest trends is starting school later so that students can get more sleep. After reading the book “The Teenage Brain,” by Frances E. Jensen, it became clear to me that this is a subject on which we need to have a serious discussion.
Besides starting school later, there are other things that we could do in the district that could help our students. As a board, it’s our intention to explore multiple options and decide which, if any, we should adopt. Some options are easier to implement than others; they all have pros and cons; and due to the nature of the different items, it would not be possible to implement all of the ideas.
While I believe that the school district has an obligation to always do what’s best for our students and their learning, the board is mindful of the impact these decisions will have on families and would like to hear from parents on these issues. Therefore, we hope to get as much participation as possible in our town hall meetings and the online survey.
A few of the items that we are looking at are summarized below with some of the pros and cons.
Start for Adolescents: There is a body of research which discusses the adolescent brain and suggests that middle and high school students perform better on cognitive tasks later in the morning.
Possible increase in academic performance.
Supported by research.
Possible reduction of traffic accidents.
Possible reduction of behavioral problems.
Possible increase in physical health.
Possible increase mental health.
Reduction in the time children are home alone.
Young students may be at bus stops during dark hours.
Loss of instructional time for athletes.
Possible after-school child care concerns.
More difficulty for high school students to hold jobs.
Unsure of the impact on CTE internships and dual credit courses at WNC.
Start of school year for lake and valley: Currently, the lake schools begin two weeks after the valley schools at the request of lake parents. There is discussion among lake parents to align the start of school at the lake with the valley.
All schools would be on the same schedule for professional development and semester grade reporting.
Increase in opportunities for collaboration with other sites (e.g., distance learning, shared classes).
Increased efficiencies for support services.
Better alignment with state testing and data collection windows (most don’t account for a two week delayed start, nor additional time spent in June).
The first year summer would be shorter.
Possible conflict with South Tahoe summer sports.
Collaboration with other sites may be at risk if school week doesn’t align (e.g., five-day week vs. four-day week).
More Late Starts for teacher collaboration and training: The district uses late starts for teacher collaboration on student achievement. Additional time would enable teachers to work together more often to assess student learning and improve instruction. Afternoon sessions are not desirable as staff members are fatigued and many would miss the collaborations if they coach athletics. Additionally, other districts have experienced higher absenteeism of teachers when afternoon sessions are held.
Increased opportunity for teachers to collaborate on student performance data and instruction.
Improved academic performance.
Supported by research.
Support of the efforts by the sites to utilize PLC time for instructional development and teacher collaboration.
Child care concerns.
Possible need to add instructional minutes.
Possibly not compatible with other changes if enacted all at once.
Four-day week: George Whittell High School is currently on a four-day week. There has been some discussion at ZCES and among some valley teachers about a desire to conduct classes across the district on a four-day week.
Increased staff morale.
Possibility of adding professional development on Fridays.
Difficulty aligning the calendars if different schools are on different school weeks (four-day vs. five-day).
Possible cost savings.
May improve student attendance.
Child care concerns.
Reduced income for some classified employees and bus drivers.
Longer school days.
May restrict distance course options for students at lake when valley HS is not on same schedule.
Possible loss of instructional time for athletes.
Argument of increased morale is questionable as longer school days could be taxing on teachers.
Robbe Lehmann is president of the Douglas County School Board. Teri White is Douglas County Superintendent of Schools.