Why are we doing this?
- Sleep: There is great consistency among medical, health and wellness experts to push back school start times, particularly at the high school level, to better match teens’ biological clocks. There is mounting evidence of improvements in student “health, mood, attendance and, in some cases, learning.”
- To make room for a more flexible high school schedule: A later and slightly longer high school day will allow for more electives and course offerings. The Bellingham Promise, our strategic plan, calls on us, as a community and system, to focus on the whole child. The Promise outlines sixteen outcomes related to a student’s knowledge, character and action. We take seriously the intention to develop our students into mathematicians, scientists, reader and global thinkers, and we believe it’s as important as our objective to develop artists, tradespeople, innovators and healthy, active individuals. Elective offerings are very limited under our current high school schedule.
In March 2015, we presented some ideas about changing start and end times and solicited feedback through surveys, blogs and emails. We got a lot of input from families, staff and students.
Based on that feedback, we decided that our proposals needed more tweaking, and we’ve spent much of this school year figuring out how to make these important changes in a way that addresses the concerns we heard, keeping in mind that a “prefect” schedule does not exist and that all of our family, student, work and life needs are different.
This school year, we’ve been working internally to figure out how to shift start and end times, while also determining how we could change our high school schedule that allows our students greater flexibility and more offerings so that they can “discover and develop a passion,” an important tenant of The Bellingham Promise.
We last updated our families and community in November 2015 when I shared a blog about start and end times, and we thoroughly enjoyed some healthy dialogue with staff, families and students about sleep, schedules and transportation.
After that, we went into a full court press on the future of our high school schedule. Over the last four months, we’ve met many times with high school administrators and each school’s leadership teams/department chairs to dive deep into whether a seven or eight-period schedule is right for our schools. We’ve also surveyed, emailed and visited with all high school staff (the teacher lounge is one of my favorite places to get candid input!). We sent numerous work teams (including high school teachers and administrators) to other neighboring districts to learn more about the 4×8 and a seven-period schedule.
We hope to share details on our high school schedule changes, which are also going into effect in 2017-18, by April.
Because we’ve been processing start and end times for a year, we have heard some great suggestions and comments…and now we have responses.
Here are the major themes/questions we’ve received in the last year, as well as context and our response.
- Last spring, we heard from families that 7:45 a.m. was too early to start our elementary schools. We heard you, and we’re now going to start elementary at 8 a.m. in 2017-18. We understand that we don’t want to improve one level’s start time at the expense of another and that sleep is very important for children (and adults) at any age.
- We’ve heard from many people that “if transportation is the huge challenge, then buy more buses,” or to “better align with Whatcom Transit Authority (WTA).” We heard you, and we’re contemplating a transportation levy to buy a few additional buses and to replace part of our aging buses. And yes, we are continuing to work with WTA, though we’re discovering it’s complex and not necessarily easy to align our routes and schedules.
- We also heard from you (both families and students) that you didn’t want high school release time to be too late. So, instead of pushing for a seven hour school day, we’re increasing the length only by 15 minutes (currently, the school day is 6 hours and 30 minutes).
- We also heard you that it’s hard for high school kids to watch their younger students and we polled students at every level and at every high school. We found that about one-fourth of high school students watch a younger sibling and/or babysit after school. We are continuing to work with our community partners, including the YMCA, who now offers after-school care at all 14 elementary schools and the Boys and Girls Club. Watch a quick video of Dr. Baker talking about the 8 a.m. start for elementary.
- Have you talked to high school students about these changes? Yes, we have. Last year, we met with every high school student to engage with them around adding courses, flexibility and electives into the high school schedule. We’re now working to get input from our current students, as well as our eighth graders about their hopes for a new schedule.