Gathering more input
By APRIL S. KELLEY, Hill Country News
The Leander Independent School District is considering changing the bell schedule across the district to be more efficient with its transportation needs.
LISD is weighing the possibility of these potential changes to the bell schedule:
- moving from a 2-tier to a 3-tier transportation system, allowing for one driver to cover three routes versus the current 2-tier system;
- separating start times by 40 minutes per school level (elementary, middle and high schools); and
- lengthening the school day.
Local parent Mavis Chase raised concerns over proposed bell schedule changes at the LISD Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 5.
“I think to put such a broad time frame between each school’s start time is a bit too much,” Chase said.
Chase said she had more than one child in the district, and it would be difficult to make it to work on time with such a broad time frame.
“It’s more convenient to drop them off back-to-back, and then get to work than to wait almost a whole hour to get another child to school,” she said.
Chase said she picked her current work schedule based on the school times, and her employer expects her to meet her end of the bargain, as they made exceptions based on her need to get her children to school.
“Forty minutes at minimum between the bell schedule for each grade level at the school is too much for working parents,” she said. “I understand the traffic issue. I was aware moving here of the traffic issue, so I adjust.”
LISD Chief of Staff Matt Smith said the recommendation of 40 minutes between drop-offs came specifically from the transportation department.
“That was their initial thought on what it would take to do this effectively in our system,” Smith said. “That’s why there’s a minimum of 40 minutes between drop-offs.”
Smith said the Bell Schedule Committee that was formed to address these issues consisted of six principals, three board members, six central office staff and one teacher, and their focus was the start and end times of district schools divided into a three-tier system based on grade levels.
Current times for LISD school grade levels are 7:45 a.m. – 2:50 p.m. for elementary schools, 8:55 a.m. – 4:05 p.m. for middle schools and 8:40 a.m. – 3:45 p.m. for high schools.
Smith said the Bell Schedule Committee had considered adjusting the start time for middle schools, and whether or not there was a way to move that start time between the start time of the elementary schools and the high schools.
“We know the implications are wide and vast,” Smith said. “We need to take the time to study it and get feedback.”
Smith said the board is asking for recommendations by Dec. 2019 as one of the potential next steps.
LISD Board Member Pamela Waggoner said, with the Bell Schedule Committee, it is impossible to talk about one problem without addressing others. Waggoner said bell schedules cannot be discussed without talking about traffic as well as institutional educational learning times that would be affected by changing start and end times.
“What the board wants to address is what the board wants to address, but you can’t address one without the other,” Waggoner said.
LISD Board Member Grace Barber-Jordan said that, as the committee had discussions, they found other important things to consider.
“It was sort of an evolution of the process of things we discovered as we discussed,” Barber-Jordan said. “We need to start talking to the community about what is acceptable.”
Waggoner said everyone has a solution, but no one is in agreement yet as to what is the best solution.
“We have some solutions to bring out to the community so they can talk about it, but we need to help them in that conversation, saying we did recognize some flaws in it,” Waggoner said. “Our job as a board is to educate the community.”
LISD Board Member Gloria Gonzales-Dholakia said she wants to get more information and feedback from the community, especially teachers. She said she would like for that feedback to be collected separately.
“I feel as a community member, I may not like some things so much, but if all my teachers are telling me ‘This is really what we need in order to do our job really well, I need you to support us,’ I think our community is much more responsive to that,” Gonzales-Dholakia said.
LISD Board Member Aaron Johnson said it is worth noting that currently LISD students are in school fewer minutes each day than many other districts in the area, and he thinks that data needs to be shared with the community and board as well in order to come up with solutions.
“The devil is in the details here as far as the impact on individual families is entirely dependent on the details and specifics of our proposed three-bell schedule,” Johnson said.
Ultimately, the LISD board agreed to revisit the issue at a later date upon receiving more feedback from the community, parents and educators.