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Alpine School District eliminates elementary staggered start times

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The Alpine School District will eliminate its “early bird” and “later gator” staggered start times in elementary schools, and will implement a secondary school schedule that includes early-out Wednesday, the district’s governing board decided in a close vote May 11.

“I am just worried about living with it,” Ada Wilson, a member of the Alpine School District Board of Education, said following a 4-3 vote for the secondary school schedule. “I don’t know if our bus transportation can live with it, and I’m not sure our teachers can live with it.”

Wilson, along with Julie King and Sarah Beeson, voted against the secondary school plan. The board voted 6-1 in favor of the elementary school plan, with King voting against it. 

“I didn’t love any of the secondary plans,” King said. “I wasn’t super favoring any of them.”

Both votes came after more than an hour of discussion on the plans, where board members pointed out the need to give teachers more time to dedicate to professional development and questioned how buses would handle the new schedules. 

Option A for elementary schools places kindergarten through sixth grade teachers on an extended-day contract. Students would attend a traditional schedule, eliminating staggered start times. There would not be early-out Mondays.

The plan adds an hour a week of instructional time, four hours a week of professional learning time for teachers and an extra hour and 15 minutes of prep time. Speciality time for students will remain the same.

Option One for secondary schools places students in class five days a week on an A/B schedule, with four full days of class and an early-out day on Wednesday. Under the plan, students receive one less hour a week of instructional time when compared with the 2019-20 academic year, and creates more time for teacher team collaboration. 

More than 21,000 teachers, parents and students responded to an initial survey on the changes. A second survey drew more than 24,500 respondents and more than 7,000 comments. 

The new elementary school schedule helps create time for more than 90 hours of training teachers need on the new LETRS program, part of the district’s plan to increase literacy among students. The training requires both face-to-face and online modules.

Board members praised the program, which Wilson said gives deep and foundational skills for reading.

“This is something that has been missing in the literacy world, and it is new,” she said. “It is brain science.”

Amber Bonner, a member of the board, said that she visited a teacher who had been through the program. Bonner said it led to significant improvement among students.

“It is a little bit daunting, I think, this training,” Bonner said. “It is a big chunk to be biting off, but I am appreciative of the opportunity that we have here and how we can help our students become better leaders. My only concern with this is how to support our teachers so we don’t feel like it is going to bury them after how much work they already do.”

The plan is to embed the training into the work day under the new schedule.

The new schedule eliminates the “early bird” and “later gator” system, instead having every student begin and end the day at the same time. Test scores for students on traditional and the extended, staggered tracks are nearly identical, according to information presented to the board from John Patten, an assistant superintendent. Changing the schedule will reduce the time teachers had with a smaller class, but will reduce disruptions from the different groups coming and going. 

About 64% of teachers supported the plan, according to survey results. It also gives kindergarten and prekindergarten teachers extended-day pay.

King expressed concerns about the plan creating inequality among school clusters, and noted that large schools were going to have increased traffic issues without a staggered schedule. 

Bonner said that having a consistent schedule is better for single parents and dual-income households, who can struggle to find childcare with end times that vary per day.

Neither the board or answers to the survey showed a consensus for a secondary school schedule. 

Wilson said teachers have concerns about moving to the early-out Wednesday plan, which would cut 20 minutes off each class and throw off coordinated curriculums.

“In my talking with teachers, their feeling is that the early-out that is proposed on Wednesday is a two-hour cut, and that cut is too deep,” she said. 

The vote and meeting were both held virtually after Mark Clement, the board’s president decided that having a physical meeting was a “substantial risk to the safety of staff and those attending,” according to a notice for the meeting. Public comments could be written in or made using video at the meeting.

The decision followed what the notice said were disruptions, harassment and the “threatening manner of certain members of the public toward staff during and after board meetings concerning the requirement for students to wear masks in school.”

The previous week, the Granite School District Board of Education prematurely concluded its meeting due to aggressive anti-mask protestors. Earlier in the year, the ASD board rearranged its schedule to move into a closed session due to disruptive protestors.

Several public comments at the ASD meeting included condemnations and praise for the board. 

Audrey Genta, who referred to an April 27 meeting as “illegal,” said that the board discriminated against parents by not allowing them into the meeting and telling them they can participate online. She said the board broke public meetings law and said that each board member — along with Interim Superintendent Shane Farnsworth — should resign. 

“As a parent with children in Alpine School District, you have let me down,” Genta said. “It has become very apparent that the school board does not uphold the law and work with parents.”

Cissy Rasmussen, whose students attend the district, said she was sorry that the board had to hold the meeting virtually.

“I am so disappointed in Utah parents who are not civil in public meetings and feel the need to be disruptive and disagreeable when they disagree with you,” she said. 

While Rasmussen said she was surprised by the proposal to change schools schedules, she trusted the board to see the bigger picture.

Briawna Hugh told the board that schools have addressed every concern she had about the new schedules.

“As far as schedule, I think we should do whatever will support the teachers the most and support student achievement,” she said.

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