Sunday, December 17, 2017
Education

Proposed school start times would force Hillsborough families to adjust

TAMPA — School days will be 15 minutes longer for elementary students and 20 to 30 minutes shorter for middle and high school students under a schedule change that will go before the Hillsborough County School Board for an April 25 vote.

The district released the proposed bell schedules, along with a long letter to parents that described its focus group process, shortly before Tuesday's board meeting.

The new schedule establishes one of the goals suggested by Gibson Consulting Group, which is examining the district's finances: Bus runs would be at least an hour apart, enabling drivers to serve three schools each and saving the district about $2.7 million a year.

But it also asks traditional high school students to report to their first class at 7:15 a.m. — 18 minutes earlier than this year — which runs counter to studies about teenage sleep patterns.

"I question whether the health and well-being of our high schoolers is being seriously considered," Robinson High School parent Mark Shellabarger told the School Board on Tuesday.

The plan starts the middle school day at 9:30 a.m., an adjustment families will have to make in a year when thousands are also losing bus transportation.

The hours represent bus times but not a precise measure of instructional time, which will be affected by factors such as passing time between classes.

District leaders, in their letter to parents and staffers, made the case that they solicited input from many adults and children in their focus group sessions. A total of 1,310 people took part in the sessions: 227 students, 930 employees and 153 parents.

With the help of a paid public relations firm, the district also posted video statements from high school children who approved of the earlier start and shorter day because of their after-school activity schedules.

The report, however, showed the community is divided on some elements of the plan. "Concerns about transportation, child care, getting to work, and timely access to information were most commonly cited," the report said.

Some highlights:

• The proposed later elementary start time of 8:35 a.m. for most schools will allow children to be at bus stops in daylight hours. But parents who drive their children to school might have trouble getting to work on time. And some worry about the later dismissal for middle school, which would have children arriving home after dark some days.

• Teachers worry they will have less instructional time. But they look forward to having more planning time.

• Parents will be hit with higher child care costs if they must drop off their children early. Teachers are asking if they can get child care for free.

• Some parents say it will be easier to get their children to multiple schools with schedules that are spread further apart, while others said the staggered hours would interfere with their work schedule.

• Middle school attendance is already a challenge with a start time of 9 a.m.; it could be even worse at 9:30. The later the school day, the harder it is for students to stay focused. And traffic becomes heavier.

Speaking at Tuesday's board meeting, superintendent Jeff Eakins acknowledged that spacing out bus schedules is one of the recommendations of the Gibson firm, which the district hired in 2015 to look for ways to save money.

But he said a bigger issue is the logistical challenge of getting students to school on time when only 27 minutes separate the high school from the elementary school start time. Because of that setup, he said, some buses are chronically late.

"This is an issue about equity," Eakins said. "If we're robbing minutes of instruction from our students, then we have to do something different."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]­bay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

Comments
Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

Top USF Health official leaves amid questions of assistant’s special treatment

TAMPA — A high-ranking University of South Florida Health official has resigned amid internal concerns that he was giving special treatment to his assistant.After an internal investigation, USF System President Judy Genshaft was poised last month to ...
Published: 12/15/17
Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

Hillsborough school district and its teachers are at a bargaining impasse, but still talking

TAMPA — A months-long conflict over planned pay raises has moved to a new phase with the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association declaring a bargaining impasse with the public school district.The two sides, which began negotiations in late spring...
Published: 12/15/17
Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Pinellas schools sheltered thousands during Irma. Here’s what it cost

Three months later, the Pinellas County school district has totaled up the costs of operating 16 schools as shelters for 25,000 evacuees during Hurricane Irma.The district is asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, for a reimbursemen...
Published: 12/15/17
Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

Love of science is the goal, now that every Pinellas elementary school has a lab

SEMINOLE — It was hard for the second-graders at Orange Grove Elementary to resist the urge to rush into the school’s science lab and tinker with the colorful objects neatly arranged on each table.Thursday was just their second time in the lab this y...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Florida lawmakers want stronger college free speech rules amid First Amendment flareups

Rising up in defiance to Richard Spencer, hundreds of University of Florida students sounded off in a deafening chant."Go home, Spencer!" they shouted, as the exasperated white nationalist paced the stage, pleading to be heard.Were the students exerc...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

Hernando could be next stop for PACE Center for Girls

BROOKSVILLE — The new year could bring about new beginnings for at-risk girls in Hernando County.Pending a vote by the School Board next month, PACE Center for Girls, an alternative education program for middle- and high-school students, could open a...
Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17

Pasco school district, employees reach contract agreement

The raises for Pasco County school district employees aren’t as high as anyone would like, but they’re now part of a signed tentative contract deal reached just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.If ratified by the staff and the School Board, the agreements ...
Published: 12/13/17
For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

For Bexley students in Land O’Lakes, math skills go airborne

LAND O’LAKES — At Bexley Elementary School in Land O’Lakes, students are throwing paper airplanes — with the help of a high tech computerized launcher. They’re also bowling — with a little aid from computerized drones. And when they get around to it,...
Published: 12/13/17

Proposal to rollback early learning programs could bring Citrus into Pasco-Hernando coalition

Some Florida lawmakers have not hidden their desire to scale back the statewide number of early learning coalitions that oversee child care and preschool programs, including Voluntary Prekindergarten.The state Office of Early Learning has now issued ...
Published: 12/13/17
Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

Brink Foundation, school district create Town ’N Country STEM hub

TAMPA — Elementary school students programmed an electronic mouse to make its way through a maze.Middle school students directed an electronic vehicle to stop on a dime, then use its arms to locate and lift a tiny cube.When the demonstration was done...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/14/17