Saturday, September 22, 2018
Education

Hillsborough parents, at least those sending emails, do not like planned changes to school hours

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District's plan to change school hours, intended to save money and get more students to school on time, is running into strong opposition from parents with a range concerns, including how the proposal would affect their family schedules.

A review of more than 400 emails sent to the district last week at the invitation of superintendent Jeff Eakins showed comments running against the plan by a margin of four to one compared with those in favor.

"An earlier start time for high school students is an absolute non-starter," wrote Nelson Potter, concerned that the opening bell for high school will be moved from 7:33 a.m. to 7:15 a.m.

Jennifer Crow felt the same about the middle school day, which would end at 4:25 p.m., 10 minutes later than this year. "As it is, my daughter gets home at almost 5 p.m.," she wrote.

The findings should not be considered an accurate measure of opinion, as people who are against the new schedule are naturally more motivated to write in.

Despite the remarks, district officials say their early focus groups showed more acceptance of the plan that is scheduled for a School Board vote on April 25.

"I'm listening. That is why the recommended changes are a proposal at this time," Eakins said Monday.

Restating his reasons for changing the times, he stressed the need to correct a system that has too many students arriving late to school.

"We know our current bell schedule does not meet the needs of all of our students," Eakins said. "We need to ensure they are not missing valuable instructional time due to late buses."

While the idea for a schedule change originated in a cost-cutting report by the Gibson Consulting Group, district leaders in recent weeks have touted other benefits, including more art, music and physical education for younger children and more planning time for teachers of all ages.

"The students that we talked to, at Sickles (High School) and in general seemed to be very excited about getting out of school earlier so they could do what they needed to do after school," district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.

WHAT PARENTS THINK: Read a sampling of the emails submitted to the district about the proposed bell schedule here.

But parents and some students said the early start will further deprive teens of needed sleep.

The emails revealed common themes among families who are contemplating changes in their routines when school resumes on Aug. 10.

Many opposed start times that would be 35 to 50 minutes later than this year at most elementary schools, citing disruption to their morning schedules.

"I've organized my personal and work-life around the current bell schedule, which allows me to drop off my son at school every morning at 7:30 a.m.," wrote Lejla Mehicic, a single parent whose child is in fourth grade at Deer Park Elementary in Citrus Park.

"He has breakfast at school and he is never late for class. I've even made it a point to secure a residence close enough to his school, so that we could maintain this schedule every day and I could still get to work on time."

Others said a later dismissal will make it harder for them to arrange doctor's appointments and after-school activities.

Some high school parents said they felt insulted by Eakins' statement that the proposed schedule — which dismisses students at 2:10 p.m., nearly an hour earlier than the current schedule — will help students with after-school jobs.

"What is more important — time in school or after-school activities?" wrote Naomi Mizell. "Especially jobs, really?"

Complaints also came from parents of magnet school children, who are now on street corners at 6 a.m. or earlier, waiting for buses and transfers. As magnet schools of all levels track with the schedules of early-starting high schools, the fear is that these journeys will begin even earlier.

"I mentor two third grade boys at Lockhart Elementary School," wrote Leslie Scalley. "Currently, they catch the bus at 6 or 6:15 a.m. for school, which starts at 8:20." Under the proposed 7:35 a.m. start time for the magnet, "they will be walking to the bus stop, in the dark, and then waiting there, in the dark, every single school day," with siblings as young as 5 years old.


WHAT IT MEANS

Here's what the proposed bell schedule would mean for each school in Hillsborough County:

High schools | Middle schools | Elementary schools


That concern, however, could be moot for many students. A newly released fact sheet from the district estimates more than a third of the early buses will be able to pick up students on their current schedules. The rest will change by only five to seven minutes. "Our goal is to make sure no one is picked up before 5 a.m.," the document said.

The emails included complaints about the focus group process, and the fact that the public was not informed of the proposed schedule changes until March — even though the district began to work on them in September.

Those emails favoring the changes were typically brief, such as this note from Ashleigh Kemp in Tampa Palms: "I don't see any problem with the revised bell schedule. Thank you for your consultation with parents."

A few took the opportunity to comment on other issues, such as student nutrition and the need for Spanish-language classes. More than one said the district should do away with early release days on Monday, which create planning time for teachers.

And there were dozens who did not state a preference, but asked questions, typically about the availability of childcare in the early morning hours.

Arja said the district plans to offer the HOST program for before- and after-school care at any location that needs it in the morning, and to find donors to subsidize the fees as needed.

The Tampa Bay Times is publishing a sampling of the parent letters in the online version of this article along with the full list of bell times, which is also available on the school district website.

Eakins said he is taking all the comments into consideration.

"We are asking for feedback to help shape the final recommendation, based in part, on the information we are receiving," he said.

The new schedule, if approved, would resemble the one now in use in Pinellas County. There, students begin high school at 7:05 a.m. — 10 minutes earlier than the planned time for Hillsborough. Elementary school in Pinellas, with some exceptions, starts at 8:35 a.m. and middle school starts at 9:30 a.m., identical to the proposed time in Hillsborough.

In Pasco County, school begins as early as 7:25 a.m. for Wiregrass High and as late as 9:40 a.m. for many elementary schools.

The district will continue to take comments at [email protected] until the board vote, and afterwards.

While Gibson Consulting recommended a change in bell times to save the district $2.7 million a year, Eakins insists cost is not the primary reason. Rather, he said last week, it is an attempt to correct an ill-designed system that has some buses arriving chronically late.

"This is an issue about equity," Eakins told the School Board. "Every single one of our elementary students should be arriving on time and getting the maximum minutes for school. Currently that is not happening in Hillsborough County. We are robbing minutes of our students, of quality instructional time, and we have to do something different."

If the schedule is approved, district officials said they will send post cards out during the summer advising families of the new bus schedules.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 810-5068 or [email protected] Follow @marlenesokol

Comments
Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

Hillsborough school district releases referendum wish list

TAMPA ó The Hillsborough County School District on Friday released a long-awaited, school-by-school list of 1,785 projects to be funded by a proposed half-cent sales tax hike.The list, now on the district website, includes playgrounds for Anderson El...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Two acclaimed authors to speak about water at USF St. Petersburg

Pulitzer Prize winner and University of Florida professor Jack Davis thinks people need to humble themselves more toward water."The water doesnít belong to us, we belong to the water," he said. "Without water, humanity would not exist, life would not...
Published: 09/21/18
Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Pinellas education news: college fairs, lectures and more

Students, parents invited to three upcoming college and career fairsThree events are scheduled over the next two weeks that are designed to help students plan their next steps after leaving the Pinellas County school system. The University of South F...
Published: 09/21/18
Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

Football player, band member, advanced student, girl: Pasco eighth-grader does it all well

TRINITY — Julie Michael stood in the metal bleachers, flute poised at her lips, ready to play the national anthem with the Seven Springs Middle School advanced band.As the band segued into the school fight song, the eighth-grader continued per...
Published: 09/20/18
Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

Romano: We need education solutions not slogans from DeSantis, Gillum

And 200,000 third-graders just rolled their eyes.I swear, even they can see through the education proposals offered by gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum this week.Letís see, the Republican wants more privatization. And the Democ...
Published: 09/20/18

Local rapper encourages elementary students to attend school every day(w/video)

Local rapper Corey Thornton performs original songs on Wednesday Sept. 18, 2019 about the importance of school attendance at Walsingham Elementary School during a school wide assembly. During Attendance Awareness Month, Pinellas County Schools and th...
Published: 09/19/18
Updated: 09/20/18
USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

USF faces a reality as it prepares to consolidate: This is going to be hard.

TAMPA ó All summer, while most students were gone, the University of South Florida has been toiling away on a blueprint for the complex merger of the USF System.Its three universities in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota will soon consolidate into o...
Published: 09/19/18
Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

Employee pay dominates Pasco schools budget debate

LAND O' LAKES — The Pasco County School Board unanimously adopted a $1.26 billion budget Tuesday with a slightly lowered tax rate and funding for new school construction in both east and west Pasco.But the spending item that grabbed most of th...
Published: 09/19/18
Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

Ernest Hooper: HCC helps light the way for those on life's winding paths

After he graduated from a Maryland high school, Rickey Murray had a number of opportunities awaiting him at a number of four-year institutions.He eyed the University of South Florida, applied to Florida International University and considered Virgini...
Published: 09/18/18
School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

School buses, technology updates and teacher recruitment on Hernando schools legislative agenda

BROOKSVILLE — Busing concerns, security technology updates and teacher recruitment efforts could headline the Hernando County School District’s concerns in Tallahassee next year. As the district’s legislative picture for 2019 sha...
Published: 09/18/18