Douglas school district wants input for possible changes (Opinion)
Town hall meetings will be held at schools starting with George Whittell High School at 5:45 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 10. Meetings will also be held at Douglas High School on Feb. 24 and at Pau Wa Lu Middle School on Feb. 27. Both meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.
The Douglas County School district will be holding multiple town hall meetings and conducting surveys to receive community input on a variety of changes that we’re considering.
As a school board, our desire is for our district to provide the best educational experience as possible for each and every student at 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.
The one-week vacations would allow schools to provide remediation for struggling students, would reduce the “summer slide” or the amount a student regresses during the summer, and provide needed breaks for teachers to recharge, among other benefits.
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. And they all have pros and cons. While I believe that the school district has an obligation to always do what’s best for our students, the board is mindful of the impact these decisions will have on families and would like to hear community feedback on these issues.
Therefore, we have decided to conduct some town hall meetings and a survey to better understand those impacts and receive feedback. We hope to get as much participation as possible.
A few of the items that we are looking at are summarized below to include 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.
Pros — Possible increase academic performance and in mental and physical health; Supported by research; Possible reduction of traffic accidents, behavioral problems and reduction in the time children are home alone.
Cons — Young students may be at bus stops during dark hours; Loss of instructional time for athletes; Possible after school child care concerns; High school students unable to work after school if that is a necessity (for some it may be); Unsure of the impact on CTE Internships and dual credit courses at WNC; Possibly not compatible with other changes if enacted all at once.
Start of the 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.
Pros — All schools would be on the same schedule for professional development and semester grade reporting; Increase in opportunities for collaboration with other sites (EG – distance learning, shared classes); Increased efficiencies for support services; Better alignment with state testing and data collection windows.
Cons — 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 (EG – 5 day week vs 4 day week).
More late starts for teacher collaboration and training — The district utilizes 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.
Pros — 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.
Cons — Child care concerns; Possible need to add instructional minutes and may not be compatible with other changes if enacted at once.
Four day week — George Whittell High School is currently on a 4-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 4-day week.
Pros — Increased staff morale; Possibility of adding PD on Fridays; Alignment of the school week across district whether it is 4 day or 5 day is a plus – is in concern with alignment of start of school year; Possible cost savings; May improve student attendance.
Cons — 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; Morale is questionable, as longer days may not necessarily mean better morale if staff is dragging come Thursday.
Staff may like the sound of it, but the reality may not align.
Guest column submitted by Robbe Lehman, the board president and Teri White, the superintendent, of the Douglas County School District.