Arlington Public Schools students will be attending school a bit longer when the 2019-20 school year begins in August.
After hearing feedback from parents, teachers and staff and working to address any concerns they could, Supt. Lynn Johnson announced during the June 10 Arlington Board of Education meeting plans to move forward with a new schedule.
Under the changes, K-4 students will attend school from 8:05 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.; 5-6 students from 8:05 a.m. to 3:25 p.m. and 7-12 students, 8:05 a.m to 3:30 p.m.
Administrators had previously proposed a 3:30 p.m. dismissal for fifth- and sixth-graders, but after hearing feedback from parents and talking with staff, they felt it was best to stagger dismissal times. They'll also work with families who have students in both K-4 and 5-6 to make sure the staggered times aren't a hinderance.
The schedule for the 2018-19 school year was 8:15 a.m. to 3:20 p.m. for K-6 and 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. for 7-12 students.
As part of the changes, teachers will be asked to come it at 7:45 a.m., rather than 7:50 a.m.
Administrators said the additional time will enhance the delivery of support systems for K-8 students in the areas of math and reading.
Secondary Principal Aaron Pfingsten said intervention time will now be set aside, rather than taking students out of their already scheduled classes.
"So you understand my thought behind this, is that taking kids out of their classes when that's their scheduled class time didn't sit right with me, so having a dedicated time for interventions, I'm not stealing kids out of your band class or your math class or you P.E. class, whatever class," Pfingsten said. "That class is your class."
Pfingsten said there is still concern from the fine arts teachers that time may taken away because of the possible changing of a middle school lab time that was used for middle school jazz band time this year.
Board member Janet Warner said those issues need to be addressed.
"Those music teachers work so hard," she said. "Our music program is awesome and there are kids that aren't in sports that need that music. I really don't want to compromise that."
Pfingsten agreed and said he'll continue to address those concerns and work on a solution.
But, he also indicated that the interventions need to be done on a regular basis and said the extra time, and the board's support to hire interventionists, will allow the district to offer both reading and math intervention time. Up to this point, math intervention was not offered, he said.
"On the middle school side, the extra 10 minutes adds value to what we are trying to do," he said.
Warner questioned the need for the longer day.
"The scores show that we are doing a good job," she said.
Johnson said this is an issue that administrators have been discussing for about two years and it's something Pfingsten and Elementary Principal Jacque Morgan are passionate about.
"There are some concerns — mostly in the music program — but the principals will have to try and address those concerns," Johnson said. "It's hard to fit it all in and this is the first year we've had middle school jazz band. It's hard to fit that all into the school day."
Board member Jessica Scheer said there are challenges and concerns with any change, but she said it's something the administrators need to try.
"You can always revert back to normal," she said.
But, Warner said going back isn't something that normally happens.
"If we get a year or two down the road and the board sees it's not working and not helping anything, it can happen," Scheer said.
Johnson said that is where administrators will need to be ready.
"The principals will need to come to the table with data to say what kids is this impacting and how," she said. "That is really going to be your charge. You have to be able to prove that somebody lost 10 minutes of something or these 20 kids to gain this."
"I just don't want some kids to lose it all because a few kids need this," she said. "I understand that there are kids that need that, I just don't want to sacrifice opportunities for other kids — a bigger group of kids."
Morgan, however, said the intervention time can be used to benefit all students.
"I think we've had really good conversations about opportunities it will actually open for some of those kids on the other side of the spectrum with some STEM (lessons)," Morgan said. "We just started having those conversations about what extensions would look like because that time is purposeful and planned out for all kids, not just this 25 group of kids that are struggling in a specific area. It's specifically planned for all kids. What are your on- and above-level kids doing while these kids are being intervened with? Well, they are being intervened with it as well just at a different side of the scope and sequence with things."
Those issues will be part of the ongoing conversation.
"We talked a lot about how important it is that it does not become a study hall," she said.
Johnson said she received feedback from nine families and believes administrators were able to address the concerns, or the case of the staggered start time, make small changes.
The superintendent said the changes shouldn't affect bus routes and should allow time for students to eat breakfast and get to class on time.
Board President Matt O'Daniel said the issue comes down to doing what is best for students.
"At the end of the day, it's all about benefiting the students, not just those that need the intervention, but those on the other side that can benefit from it as well," he said.
Action by the board was not needed to move forward with the schedule change, Johnson said.
But, board members all agreed that ongoing communication between administrators and the board is necessary.
"A lot of communication,” board Vice President Shanon Willmott said. "Like over communication about what you are doing and how those minutes are being used."