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‘Late start Tuesdays’ debate continues

Cory Fisher

If Tarzan had listened to sentiments expressed at a recent community forum on staff development time in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, parent Duane Wallace thinks the ape man would have summed it up like this: “Teachers good, late start bad.”

For the past five months, parents, teachers, administrators and community members have met to re-evaluate the current “late start Tuesdays.”

Slightly more than an hour each Tuesday morning is set aside for training and collaboration among the district’s K-8 teachers. The school day begins when training ends.

Concerns, however, have been raised regarding once-a-week morning child care and the potential lack of parental supervision for children with working parents.

Those concerns were voiced many times over by parents at an April 2 “Late Start” forum at Sierra House Elementary School. However, totals from a districtwide parent survey of options rated “status quo” a close second to letting students out early one day a week.

“The first choice (on the survey) was to let students out early one day a week, and the second was to continue with late start as it currently exists – with the possibility of changing the day of the week,” said Assistant Superintendent Barbara Davis. “But there was not a statistical difference between the two top choices – and the responses from the teacher surveys were very similar.”

After months of exploring options and looking at other district models, the committee generated 12 options, which were then narrowed down to four. Those four were sent out to parents to list in order of preference. Of nearly 3,699 families in the district, 1,388 surveys were returned, what Davis called a “strong return.”

Yet many of the roughly 30 parents attending the forum seemed most interested in an option that did not appear on the survey – urging teachers to meet before or after regular school hours.

“Meeting after school is more complicated for teachers than just dealing with buses and sporting events,” said Davis. “It also may be a contractual issue – we don’t want to give the impression we can change contracts without negotiating.”

“As an attorney, I have to keep up professionally on my own time,” said parent Lori London. “No one gives me time on Tuesdays. If teachers are dedicated, they’ll find the time to do what they need to do.”

Davis has emphasized that the survey results – while considered valuable information – will not necessarily dictate what the committee ultimately recommends to the board of trustees for the fall of 1998.

The committee has come to the conclusion that time set aside for collaboration and training is a valuable ingredient for student success, said Wallace, therefore eliminating it altogether is not considered an option.

“Without this (collaboration time) we couldn’t be as effective – we discuss common issues, as well as Johnny, Suzy and Sam so we can better understand how to help them succeed,” said South Tahoe Middle School teacher Joanne Finkler. “I’m concerned about being as effective at the end of the day, and I believe middle schoolers are more at risk if they get out early in the afternoon.”

“Teachers are my heroes, they do angels’ work,” said parent Jill Burke. “But I can’t tell you how much stress this has caused me as a working mom – I’ve relied on the courtesy of neighbors and friends. Kids who don’t have that are in danger every Tuesday morning.”

Parent Cathy DiCamillo stressed the importance of consistency and routine in education.

“All it takes is for one kid to be abducted, one hit by a car or one kid starting a fire at home,” DiCamillo said. “Will we wait until something happens?”

Despite objections to the existing “late start Tuesdays,” parents applauded the administration for seeking community input.

Davis expressed disappointment that more district staff members were not present to give the committee a more balanced perspective.

“Teachers already give a million hours – we need to do a better job of letting parents know what goes on during staff development,” Davis said. “This is a complex issue, but we’re confident we’ll meet a compromise – this is not unsurmountable.”

A ripple of chuckles went through the crowd as Wallace proposed one final solution: “We thought maybe we could just drive the buses real slow every Tuesday morning.”

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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