When we moved to East Penn a number of years ago, my wife and I were shocked to learn that all elementary students are dismissed early every Wednesday of the school year. Both of us work outside the home, so this quirk of the district calendar sent us scrambling to provide care for our daughter on all those Wednesday afternoons. We hired a babysitter some weeks, and a retired neighbor helped us out on other days. Since then, we’ve cobbled together something a little different each year, combining changes to our work schedules with daycare, babysitters, and help from friends and neighbors. Next year, however, might be different.
A New Wednesday Schedule
In response to growing concerns about half-day Wednesdays, the district administration has developed a proposal to make the elementary school day the same each day of the week. The main element of the plan is changing the daily schedule for both students and teachers. Students would start five minutes later (9:00am instead of 8:55am) and be dismissed ten minutes earlier most days (3:20pm instead of 3:30pm) and much later on Wednesdays (3:20pm instead of 1:30pm). Official teacher workdays would be the same length as they are now– 7 hours and 20 minutes– but would both begin and end earlier. Full details, including the proposed new kindergarten schedule, is available in the presentation the administration gave to the school board last Monday.
Advantages & Disadvantages
There are a number of potential advantages to this new schedule:
- Students would receive almost a week’s worth of additional instruction– over 31 hours–each year, compared to what they receive now.
- A regularized weekly schedule greatly improves the rhythm of the school day for students. It also greatly increases the flexibility schools have for scheduling instruction around snow days and other disruptions.
- It would be much more convenient for the many families who currently have to scramble each Wednesday to find childcare. Our community has far more families with two working parents, as well as families headed by only one parent, than it did in 1974, when the current schedule was first instituted.
- Teachers would receive (slightly) more useable preparation time– 310 minutes compared to 300 currently– mainly through a more efficient schedule in which they have longer uninterrupted time blocks each day.
There are also a number of potential disadvantages to the change:
- Students who currently enjoy Wednesdays with their parents at home will no longer have this luxury, even if the number of such students is far lower today than in the past.
- Teachers will lose the large block of preparation time on Wednesday afternoons, replaced by shorter daily blocks.
- There is a financial cost to the district of as much as $70,000 for instructional aides on Wednesday afternoons, required by largely unfunded state special education mandates.
- Change can be difficult for many. The district has not held elementary classes on Wednesday for forty years. Fear of the possible consequences to changing longtime habits is thus understandable.
Some Recent History
The administration proposed changing the Wednesday afternoon schedule seven years ago, but the proposal was unanimously turned down by the school board at the time– despite a survey that showed 71% of parents supported it. But that proposal differed from the current one in several crucial ways. First, the older proposal called for a later start time for students (9:15am instead of 9:00am). Second, it called for additional hiring that would have cost more than $472,000 annually (compared to a maximum of $70,000 for the current proposal). Given these differences, I believe this new proposal stands a much better chance with my colleagues on the school board than the one in 2007.
A Change for the Good?
A lot has changed in our schools and in our community in the generation since half day Wednesdays were first instituted! Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of this new proposal, I am cautiously optimistic that this change in schedule can be good for everyone: students, parents, teachers, and the district administration. The changes would definitely disrupt the carefully laid plans my wife and I have for getting our 3rd grader to and from school each day, at least in the short term. But I’m sure we could adapt. I want to hear from others before making up my mind on this issue, though. How do you view these proposed changes? Are there potential advantages and disadvantages I haven’t yet considered?