Block schedules were all the rage, and then school districts began starting the year well before Labor Day. The latest trend to hit local school schedules: early dismissal once a week.
In the Sacramento City Unified School District, 43,000 students returning Sept. 1 will spend extra time in class four days a week in exchange for leaving early on Thursdays. The new schedule gives teachers an hour after school to collaborate each week, an approach that districts around the region have begun embracing in recent years.
Because the change extends teacher work schedules but leaves instruction time unchanged for students, the district had to negotiate the move with the teachers union in the spring. The district has pointed to research showing that a weekly collaboration period can improve both teaching and learning.
Elk Grove Unified, the area’s largest district, launched an “early out/late start” program at its elementary schools last year, according to campus websites. At San Juan Unified and at middle and high schools in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, early release one day a week has been underway for more than a decade.
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Sacramento City Unified spokesman Gabe Ross called the change “a net positive for students in our districts.”
In April 2007, researchers Yvonne L. Goddard and Roger D. Goddard of the University of Michigan and Megan Tschannen-Moran of the College of William and Mary found an indirect but positive link between teacher collaboration and learning. “Collaboration ... encourages teachers to move beyond reliance on their own memories and experiences with schooling” to foster learning.
Nikki Milevsky, president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said last month that the hour of collaboration each week will be particularly useful as teachers incorporate Common Core State Standards into instruction. In a text message Monday, she called it a “first step towards revamping professional learning in our district.”
Laura Shirley, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade math at Rosa Parks K-8 in Sacramento, said that teachers will be able to share knowledge a week or more ahead of instruction. “If we’re doing math and we’re transitioning into fractions, you want to talk to somebody else and see what they’re doing, what’s working for them, what has worked for you,” she said. “We try to be on similar pages.”
But the shift caught many Sacramento City Unified families off guard, with a general announcement rushed out to parents in the final days of the last school year. Some parents said they had no opportunity to provide feedback or voice concerns about how the schedule would impact their children.
“It would have been nice if they’d given us more notice, or had a hearing to discuss why they are doing this,” said Amy Neto, whose son Nick, 11, starts sixth grade at Leonardo da Vinci School next week.
She said Nick copes with learning disabilities and “thrives on structure and routine.” She worries that his structure and routine will be disrupted. He’ll be entering sixth grade, multiple teachers, “and now he’s got a shortened day” on Thursdays, she said.
“I switched my schedule last year to work from 6 to 2:30 so I can be at the school by 3 p.m,” she said. “There’s no way I can adjust my schedule again.” She said her husband already has agreed to work a later schedule so he can take Nick and an older brother to school every morning.
At da Vinci, students who finished school at 3 p.m. last year will instead stay until 3:12 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Thursdays, students will be done at 2:12 p.m.
That means Nick will be through with school on Thursdays, before Neto leaves work. She said she’s exploring carpool options.
The new schedule “is a huge problem,” Neto said. “My employer isn’t going to let me leave early every Thursday to get there.”
Neto said she received no formal notice of the change. On Monday, she found a reference to the new bell schedule in small print in an Aug. 12 Facebook post by the school.
Ross said that ideally the district would have had more time to reach out to parents.
“This agreement and this change happened relatively late in the school year,” he said. “And I think it’s fair to say it’s far from ideal. The preference would have been to reach agreement far earlier so we would have had much more of the previous school year to communicate with families.”
At Cal Middle School, Principal Andrea Egan said Monday that she posted notices early this summer on Facebook and Instagram that a new bell schedule would be coming. Once her school’s schedule was set in early August, she said she posted it on the school website and on the two social media sites. She also included the bell information in a letter sent on behalf of the school district.