Overview: (I) Facilitator Dick Withycombe welcomed committee members. Committee members reported on outreach activities in (II) Mercer Island and (III) Bellevue. (IV) Bellevue Director of Research and Accountability Naomi Calvo helped the committee frame the development of parent/community, staff, and student survey instruments. (V) Deputy Superintendent Eva Collins reviewed preparations for the Bellevue community forums. (VI) Bellevue Superintendent Tim Mills thanked the committee for their efforts and answered questions.
Facilitator Dick Withycombe welcomed committee members. The minutes of the March 18 meeting were approved as submitted.
II. Mercer Island Outreach Activities
Mercer Island committee members reported on the outreach activities they conducted since the last committee meeting.
Gavin Cree summarized the input received in a March 27 meeting with approximately 12 teachers.
- The biggest issue was students missing seventh period. Students want to take “easy” classes seventh period, to minimize the impact of leaving early; but it isn’t possible to do that and get all the classes they need to meet the new graduation requirements (Core 24). And of course, it isn’t possible for the school to offer only “easy” classes seventh period.
- A related concern is the impact of seventh-period attendance on student performance as an element of teacher evaluation.
- The other issue for teachers is the impact on their commutes. Many already arrive early in order to avoid peak traffic and would continue to do so if the start time were set back; so their days would be lengthened.
- Most stakeholder feedback has been positive about moving from an early dismissal to a late start on Wednesdays. However, there were concerns about the loss of meeting time for clubs and activities and of teacher office time (tutoring or extra help) on that day because teachers would leave right after school.
- Generally, the teachers who participated in the meeting were not enthusiastic, but they think the district should finish the study process. One teacher suggested that the committee first determine whether there’s a problem (e.g., poor test scores, lack of sleep) and what causes the problem (e.g., too much homework, too many activities) because that would lead to a more productive conversation.
Parent Advisory Council
Frances Osman reported on their meeting with the Parent Advisory Council. Unfortunately, only two parents were present. Two others sent emails. Another meeting is planned for April 16.
Most of them have children who are involved in band and were primarily concerned about the impact on that program. There was also concern about the availability of teachers after school, to work with students who need extra help or to make up a test.
However, they were also concerned about students getting enough sleep. One of them suggested rotating the schedule so the same teachers don’t always see the tired students first thing in the morning and the same teachers don’t always have students leaving seventh period early for activities and sports.
In general, the pattern has been initial support that wanes as the potential implications appear. It seems to be more than a fear of change, and the issues are usually the same.
Paige Behrbaum met with Athletics and Facilities Coordinator Ann Meisner, who will prepare a spreadsheet about the effects of bell-time changes, which she thinks could be significant. Her formula for calculating when students must leave for competitions includes transportation and warmup time. Two-thirds of the games are afternoon games (e.g., baseball, lacrosse). The league has expanded, so teams are traveling farther; and there are more out-of-league games. Mercer Island is unique in having five club sports, which means students compete outside KingCo in places as far away as Tacoma and Poulsbo.
III. Bellevue Outreach Activities
District Director of Athletics and Activities Jeff Lowell discussed an 8:30 a.m. scenario with the district’s operations team. The biggest issue appears to be transportation; and Jeff is waiting to hear back from the transportation director. The issue is that the district purchases routes from Metro, which doesn’t want to run school routes too late in the afternoon because it needs its buses for the commuter traffic. If the last Metro departure continues to be 3:30 p.m., it would be a significant problem. Students could take the regular buses, but it may take longer and involve additional transfers.
Other issues raised were the impact on custodial staff and on their contract language, increased expectations for nutrition services on Wednesdays, and the need for security changes. There were no concerns related to technology.
Jeff also attended a meeting with parents at Interlake High School. He described it as a good mix of parents, who were excited about the possible benefits to students and raised concerns similar to those raised in other parent gatherings (e.g., the importance of tutorial). They had questions specific to Interlake and were generally positive.
Bellevue Deputy Superintendent Eva Collin profiled the emails the district has received through its start-time website. She reported that Bellevue Superintendent Tim Mills has met with the Chamber of Commerce, where he shared the information sheet developed for the high school focus groups.
Upcoming Bellevue activities include an information table at Parent University on April 2 and Scott Backus’ meeting with music teachers in May.
IV. Survey Design
Eva reviewed two handouts: the draft survey from an earlier committee meeting and a profile of the results of a survey conducted by the St. Paul, Minnesota, school district.
She introduced Bellevue Director of Research and Accountability Naomi Calvo, who will draft survey instruments for parents/community, students, and staff members, accommodating the two districts’ different interests to the extent possible. Naomi led a discussion which served to frame the committee’s data interests and help her with the drafts. Eva will email those ahead of the April 22 meeting, when the committee will review and finalize them.
Bellevue is committed to conducting the surveys, and Mercer Island will make its decision soon. Dick said he hoped it would be possible for both districts to complete the study process. If both do, their communications departments would launch the surveys in early May.
- It’s important to provide some context for people’s responses. We can also include links to additional information for people who want to learn more.
- We need to be sure people understand that things like zero-hour classes, tutorial, and student activities will be maintained.
- Our charge was a feasibility study, which includes identifying impacts on students and staff; then the superintendents will decide what to do. We don’t want to adopt an advocacy stand, but we need to provide some context for people taking the survey.
- We need to include information about implications, as well as benefits.
- That’s the reason for the survey, so people can provide informed responses. We don’t want people to be surprised; we want to be confident they will support the change, given the implications.
- We need to include that there may be other changes in the structure of the school day to make a later start feasible, changes that mitigate impacts. It doesn’t mean simply shifting the whole day.
- But the specifics of those changes are beyond the scope of this committee. If the district decides to go in that direction, there would be an implementation committee to address the specifics.
- We can ask people why they chose one scenario over another, and their answers would help us identify possible impacts and help a later committee develop solutions.
- Implications are secondary if the focus is on benefits for students. Adding information about implications would deflect attention from the primary issue.
- Implications don’t have to be negative; some implications are positive (e.g., student health).
- In Bellevue, if we think something is right for kids, we figure out how to make it work. Maybe we should include a statement about that commitment. It’s important for parents to realize that the people who need to manage this challenge will approach it from that perspective.
- Everyone wants what’s better for kids, but they may have different perspectives about what’s best; and we need to keep that in mind. Many parents in Mercer Island would say that having a lot of activity opportunities is what’s best for kids.
V. Community Forums
Bellevue Director of Communications Elizabeth Sytman displayed mockups of the display panels for the community forums. At this open-house-style event, committee members and staff members will interact with community members around tables.
The forums will be held on April 15 at Interlake High School and April 16 at Newport High School; both start at 6:30 p.m. and end at 7:30 p.m., and committee members are asked to arrive at 6:00 p.m.
The committee discussed final planning ideas.
- Providing a brief response sheet so people feel they left behind something more than oral comments (but making sure people understand this isn’t the survey and encouraging them to complete the survey when it arrives)
- Including one or more open-ended questions (e.g., what does the district need to know to make this decision?)
- Letting people write their comments on a sheet of butcher paper
- Setting up a table where committee members help people document their ideas and concerns
- Translating the information sheet and one of the kiosks (which also means having someone there who can engage with people in Spanish)
- Providing badges for committee members, a sign-in sheet, and name tags
VI. Superintendent Mills
Dr. Tim Mills, superintendent of the Bellevue School District, came into the meeting to express his appreciation for the committee’s work.
Asked about his experience in his previous district, which adopted a later secondary start time, he said that the transition had been completed 10 years before his arrival and that everything operated well. There were no issues related to morning attendance and only occasional teacher concerns about students missing school for athletic events. There were some practices before school, because gym access is always an issue; but the greatest impact was on community use; some adult activities ran late into the evening.