The Portland Board of Public Education is considering a newly revised schedule of elementary and middle school start and end times for the 2015-2016 school year. The latest bell schedule, which was presented to the school board at a workshop on Tuesday, April 7, is designed to be responsive to a variety of feedback from the public and staff about previously proposed start/end times. That board will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, April 28, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Lincoln Middle School on the proposed changes.
A new bell schedule is necessary to accommodate 20 more minutes of student learning time that will be added to each school day, beginning this fall. The board on March 31 approved new bell schedules for the city’s public high schools, middle schools and elementary schools for the 2015-2016 school year to allow for a 6.5-hour student day.
“The reason we’re adding more time to the school day is to increase student outcomes,” said Portland Public Schools Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk. “If you look at some of our surrounding school districts, their students are in school 6.5 hours. The Portland Public Schools wants to ensure that our students have maximum learning opportunities.”
Prior to the March 31 vote, the school board held two public hearings on the proposed changes to school start and end times. However, the public’s discussion at the public hearings was focused mainly on the high school times, which the board later voted to adjust to address concerns raised by parents and students. Understanding that elementary and middle school families were unclear about the impact the change in times would have on them, the board now is reconsidering the elementary and middle school schedules to be responsive to feedback it has received. The board plans no further changes to the new high school times that were approved March 31.
Feedback from the public and staff included a concern that elementary school start times were too early and that having staggered end times for the middle schools would cause a conflict with athletics.
“The feedback we received all has merit,” Superintendent Caulk said. “In this latest proposal, we took all of it into consideration. We also took into account our partnership with the city in terms of such factors as after-school use of city athletic fields. We also factored in the school district’s need to have the most efficient bus transportation routes, given our current busing resources.”
The latest bell schedule is designed to ensure that:
*students don’t have a too-early start that would burden families with the need for additional child care and lead to young children waiting for the bus in the dark in winter.
*there aren’t large discrepancies in start/end times at various school levels, such as the middle school level. Such time discrepancies would make it difficult for itinerant teachers who serve multiple schools to meet students’ needs. The discrepancies also would make it difficult for all students to participate in extracurricular activities without some of them being dismissed early from their classes, placing students in the unacceptable position of choosing between two important student priorities: academics and athletics.
*high school, middle school and elementary school schedules complement each other sufficiently to allow for older siblings to be able to look after younger siblings in cases where there is such a need.
*school schedules are more aligned with the schedules of our city partners, in terms of providing crossing guards and snow removal and facilitating access to Recreation Department after-school care and the use of city-owned athletic fields.
*the school district is able to safely transport students in the the most efficient and cost-effective way, given our current resources.
When it comes to the elementary schools, the start and end times will depend on which school bus transportation group a school is in. Because the district has a limited number of school buses, schools must be grouped to allow for buses to make all runs necessary.
The latest proposed schedule before the board is as follows:
• Elementary School Group 1 (Riverton, Ocean Avenue and Reiche) – 8:20 a.m. to 2:50 p.m.
• Elementary School Group 2 (East End, Hall, Longfellow, Lyseth and Presumpscot) – 8:40 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.
Most elementary schools currently start at 8:55 and end 3:05, although Riverton and East End school have grant-funded early start programs that begin at 8:15 a.m.
Peaks Island and Cliff Island schools will maintain their current schedule for the 2015-2016 school year.
Other schedule changes include new times for Lyman Moore and Lincoln middle schools and students at the Bayside Learning Community, with a day that starts at 7:55 a.m. and ends at 2:25 p.m. Those schools now have varying start and end times that range from as early as 8 a.m. to as late as 3 p.m.
The board, in its March 31 vote, already approved changing King Middle School’s day to run from 7:55 a.m. to 2:25 p.m., instead of the 8:15 to 2:25 p.m. day that school has now. The latest proposal would ensure all three middle schools are on the same schedule, facilitating students’ after-school extracurricular activities.
If changes are made to the elementary school and middle school times, the board will hold a final vote on the revised student start and end times for the 2015-2016 school calendar on Tuesday, May 5, at the board’s regular 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall.
Students at Deering, Portland and Casco Bay high schools will continue to start school at 8 a.m., as they do now, but their school day will now finish at 2:30 p.m. instead of 2:10 p.m. Times for the Portland Art and Technology High School (PATHS) will remain the same as they are now, running from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The school board proposed to have high school students begin their day later because research shows students who get more sleep perform better in school. However, the later start would have meant a later dismissal time and parents and students raised concerns that such a late ending time would create a conflict for student playing sports, attending after-school clubs, holding jobs and – if they live on Casco Bay islands – catching afternoon ferries. The board voted to create a task force made up of various stakeholders to explore the challenges and potential benefits of possibly making the shift to a later start time in the future.
As part of the new changes, Portland METRO buses will transport most high school students to and from classes. School bus transportation will be provided for high school special education students.
The longer day for students was part of a contract agreement between the district and the Portland teachers’ union that the school board approved in December.
Starting this fall, students will attend school for 178 days per year, compared to the 180 days they’re attending this year. However, because each student day will be 20 minutes longer, students will actually gain learning time. Their new 6.5-hour day means they’ll get more than 46 additional instructional hours in school over the course of the year. That’s a 4 percent increase over the current year’s student hours.