Super says District must set priorities if it wants to change the shape of the day

Super says
District must set priorities if it wants to change the shape of the day

GUILDERLAND — The shape of the school day won’t be changing any time soon at Guilderland.

Members of a task force reported to the school board late last month that an extended study is needed of all scheduling and transportation options.

The task force said any scheduling changes should be driven by instructional priorities and should be part of the collective bargaining process with the teachers’ union.

A new transportation schedule must be built, rather than amending the existing plan, the task force said, and any major shift must consider the costs and benefits as well as allowing for adequate notice — at least six months — for the community.

The 18-member task force — made up of parents, teachers, students, administrators, staff, school-board members, and the transportation supervisor — met 10 times for a total of 20 hours.
"The essential question we started with was: How can the Guilderland Central School District seek to maximize use of instructional time for students and staff"" said Co-Chair Martha Beck, principal of Pine Bush Elementary School.

The task force considered such influences as transportation, interscholastic sports, and cost, said Co-Chair Mary Summermatter, principal of Farnsworth Middle School.
About 30 different sports are offered to students in grades seven to 12, she said, and up to 730 students participate in any one given season. Farnsworth students are excused early for away games, which poses a "dilemma," Summermatter said.
The district covers more than 50 square miles, said Beck, has "high-density traffic" on Route 20, has a high school and middle school that are 5.6 miles apart, and has to transport students to private schools and special education students to a variety of programs.
Beck also went over a chart specifying the length of school days at various local districts and said, "We found ‘instructional day’ was a relative term."

Some schools, she said, count band and chorus rehearsals or club meeting time as part of the school day while other districts include the 10 or 15 minutes between bus arrival and the start of formal instruction. The elementary-school day at Guilderland is currently five hours and 45 minutes, the same as South Colonie and five minutes shorter than Bethlehem. Shenendehowa, Niskayuna, and North Colonie all have six hours and 10 minutes while Voorheesville has six hours and five minutes.

Guilderland is planning next year to include the 15 minutes after the buses arrive as part of the instructional day.

The task force reviewed research on adolescent sleep needs, said Summermatter, and found mixed viewpoints on whether the research was applicable to Guilderland High.

The cycle of body-temperature changes occurs in different patterns and peaks and therefore the ideal time of day for learning can vary from one person to the next, she said.
The task force looked at reversing the elementary- and middle-school starting times as well as other configurations and found there was no "eureka" solution, said the co-chairs.
"We really hoped we’d say, ‘Eureka! We found an answer’...We couldn’t find anything. There were always stumbling blocks," said Summermatter.

Three years ago, in February of 2004, Jesse Ramos, then a high-school freshman, told the school board, "Basically teenagers need more sleep."

He cited research, including that published by Monitor on Psychology that adolescents are biologically driven to sleep longer and later than adults do, and argued for a later start to the high-school day. Ramos served on the recent task force.

Last year, a 21-page report prepared by Transportation Advisory Services consultant Christopher Andrews, hired by the district, recommended changing the order in which the high-school, elementary-school, middle-school days begin and end, or lengthening the day for the elementary schools in order to allow runs with fewer buses.

Currently, district bus routes operate nominally on a three-tiered system. High-school students are in the first tier. Their day begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 2:25 p.m. Elementary students are next, starting school at 8:10 a.m. and getting dismissed at 1:55 p.m. Middle-school students are last, starting at 8:45 a.m. and getting dismissed at 3:17 p.m.
"Tight bell times increase the need for additional buses to complete the routes in less time," Andrews stated in his report.

Schools in the area with more than 5,000 students like Guilderland are triple tripped, while those with under 5,000 students are double tripped, he said.
"Although the district considers itself triple tripped," he wrote, "the tight bell times...have the effect of negating the cost benefits of triple tripping...."
Under "true" triple tripping, Andrews wrote, the entire fleet makes three trips throughout the district, transporting students in different grade levels at different times.

The reason most schools transport elementary students last in the morning is that the high schools and middle schools are typically zoned district-wide, as they are at Guilderland, meaning that the buses must cover the entire district to pick up students. After completing these runs, the fleet can then be disbursed to the smaller elementary zones to transport their students.
"In Guilderland," Andrews wrote, "the buses traverse the entire district for high-school students, then have 40 minutes to separate into the elementary zones, then have 25 minutes to again traverse the entire district for the middle-school students. Given the shortest elementary-school day, in the afternoon, the district is again unique in having the elementary transported first.
"These factors," he concluded, "result in the inefficient use of drivers and vehicles."

What’s next"
Superintendent Gregory Aidala said that so many interrelated factors are involved in the school day that seeking solutions is "very discouraging."
"It was like this giant bubble," he said, explaining that, if something were pushed in one place, something else popped out in another.
There were, he said, "too many demands to provide everybody’s first choice."
He said that "clear and specific priorities have to be established."
Aidala went on, "As long as we had universal agreement, we could move forward." He added, "We want this to happen at minimal cost" and stated it wasn’t worth buying more buses and hiring more drivers.

The task force, he said, tried to make everyone happy and therefore couldn’t recommend a change.
"We at least outlined all the issues," he said.
Board President Richard Weisz said, "I’ve always been a big believer that, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it," although he said sleep research raised the question it might be broken.

Other business

In other business at recent meetings, the board:
— Heard from April Clas, the mother of an eighth-grader at Farnsworth Middle School, about the "tragic consequences of sleep deprivation." She said the high school day begins way too early. She cited studies from the universities of Minnesota and Kentucky, as well as a recommendation for later start times from the National Sleep Foundation and suggested flipping the high-school and grade-school start times and having sports practice before school or for a shorter time after school;

— Appointed Collins and Scoville Architects to help with plans for use of the district’s EXCEL aid. Formerly, the district had regularly used Dodge, Chamberlin, Luzine, Weber Architects, but, this time, sent out requests for proposals.

After meeting in executive session, the board made the appointment with an 8-to-0 vote;

— Heard from Aidala about a proposal, researched by high school Principal Michael Piccirillo, for tutoring suspended students. Rather than working individually with a tutor, they will be tutored in groups at the school from 3:15 to 5:45 p.m.
Aidala said it "provides better service at a lower price";

— Approved a memorandum of agreement setting an hourly rate for teachers of $36.38;

— Heard from Weisz, who chairs the board’s audit committee, that the state comptroller’s office has completed it’s work at Guilderland.
"Sometime in the next few months," Weisz said, "we will be given a draft report and an exit interview will be conducted."

The district then has 30 days to respond to the report after which the comptroller’s staff has the right to issue a written rebuttal.

The final report will be issued in the fall and may be released to the press before it is sent to the district, Weisz said;

— Heard from Cathy Barber, who chairs the board’s communications committee, that coffee klatches, where residents can chat with board members, have been scheduled for April 18, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., at the Guilderland Public Library and for April 21, from 9 to 10:30 a.m., at the Altamont Free Library;

— Adopted the 2007-08 school calendar, which has 185 days;

— Approved one slot to enable a ninth-grade student to enroll next September in the new Tech Valley High School.

The tuition is $18,000 and, Aidala said that, subtracting BOCES aid of $11,646, it would come to $6,354 for Guilderland.

Board member Peter Golden had raised questions about the costs.
Board member Colleen O’Connell objected to the board having to vote on the motion, calling it "micro-managing at its worst." Warning against a "slippery slope," she said, "We trust our guidance counselors and administrators" to find cost-effective and appropriate programs for students.
Golden responded, "This is a new program and the board should know what it costs."

Board Vice President John Dornbush, a supporter of the BOCES initiative, said that technology education was one of the Guilderland board’s priorities.

In the end, the board voted 8 to 0 in favor of the motion.

A lottery was conducted Feb. 28, the day after the board’s meeting, to select the first class of 40 students for Tech Valley High School; there were 136 applicants from 38 school districts within the Questar III BOCES and the Capital Region BOCES areas;

— Approved a sabbatical leave for middle-school science teacher Alan Fiero to do work on the Karner blue butterfly at the Albany Pine Bush Center; and

— Heard from Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Nancy Andress that the Farnsworth Math Counts team came in second at the regional competition and was set to advance to the state finals on March 10.

Matt Walsh came in seventh out of 124 students and Kyungduk Rho came in 12th. Team members Beatrice Malsky and Abhishek Paul each scored in the top 30.

Chen Gong, Asif Mehdi, and Matt Seita were on the alternate team.

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