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Charlottesville Schools undecided on start time
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by Tim Shea | Friday, April 11, 2014 at 9:54 a.m.

The Charlottesville School Board wasn’t sold on the latest school day scenario presented Thursday.

The proposal, in which all students would have begun school after 8:00 a.m., was the fifth scenario the Board has reviewed during its month-long consideration of the start of the school day.

The Board ultimately rejected the plan because it would have forced Charlottesville High School to dismiss their students at 4:15 p.m.

Schools Officials said that is too late in the day for dismissal, citing afternoon traffic and afterschool activities as obstacles.

“The discussion has been good because we discovered if you tinker with one thing you impact everything else,” School Board Chair Juandiego Wade said.

Under the plan, grades preschool through four would have begun at 8:15 a.m. and ended at 2:45 p.m.

Students who attend Walker Upper Elementary and Buford Middle schools would have started class at 8:50 a.m. and ended at 3:30 p.m.

Charlottesville High School students would have begun at 9:30 a.m.

Currently, Walker Upper Elementary School and Buford Middle School start at 7:40 a.m., and the elementary schools begin at 8:30 a.m.

Based on research stating that adolescents benefit from more sleep both developmentally and academically, since early march the Board has considered numerous proposals, from starting elementary students earlier than their middle school counterparts, to moving all start times later in the morning.

On March 25, the Board held a town hall on the subject, and since that time has surveyed staff.

Based on 319 responses, 75 percent of Charlottesville City Schools staff think adjusting the school day is an important goal.

Seventy-seven percent would be open to elementary students starting the school day before middle and high school students. Fifty-five percent of the town hall phone-in participants supported this order as well.

Additionally, of the staff responses, the majority said that the change would have little to no negative impacts on students.

What’s more, sixty-three percent of staff said they would like to see the change implemented in August 2014, as opposed to waiting until August 2015.

Wade agreed.

“I don’t see any reason, if we’re going to do it, to put it off,” Wade said. “If we’re going to do something, we’ll do it this year.”

Despite the survey results, moving the school day back does not come without consequence, as doing so would impact afterschool activities at all grade levels.

If the elementary school day were to be started earlier, for example, the division would be forced to extend its CLASS afterschool program, which would come with additional cost to the Schools.

Assistant Superintendent Jim Henderson said that increase wouldn’t exceed an additional $2 per day per student.

However, Beverly Catlin, Charlottesville’s Coordinator of Gifted Instruction, said it’s tough to give the Board one figure about the cost of CLASS since the division offers so many packages to families.

Additionally, some teachers feel that an earlier elementary start time will result in increased tardiness.

Some Board members said they supported scenario two, which would see the elementary day run from 8:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the middle school day from 8:30 a.m. to 3:15 p.m., and the high school day from 9:05 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

“Looking at the big picture, I think it would be better for the whole school system to support scenario two,” Wade said.

“It is just a change of a half-hour [for elementary], and it’s something people should be able to adjust to,” Michie said. “It’ll be a hardship on some elementary parents, but not all.”

Board member Willa Neale said starting the day with the elementary students makes the most efficient use of the buses because their first runs will pick-up closest to the division’s neighborhood elementary schools.

But Board member Amy Laufer expressed concern about how an earlier elementary dismissal could make it difficult for parents to get home to be with their children. 

The School Board expects to vote on this issue in May.

 

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