Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bell Times Forum at Hamilton International Middle School

So sleep has restored my energy - here's what I heard and saw last night, starting with the two main takeaways.

1) many parents were surprised to see no two-tier plan despite, as parent Eric B. pointed out, that the Taskforce's first pick WAS a two-tier bus system.  The reason given for that by Pegi McEvoy, Assistant Superintendent of Operations, was that it was too expensive and that the Taskforce understood this.

Which, of course, begs one of the largest points about this district - we are repeatedly told how much things cost or how much money is saved and yet, no real data is presented.  The district has repeatedly said that Transportation was being reviewed/overhauled and yet, where's that data after all these years?  And, if we saved money from the LAST change-up, where did those dollars go?  You can't just say "the General Fund" because a lot of people when through change and deserve to know EXACTLY where the money went.

But as one brave parent said, cheered on by many in the crowd of about 60, simply write at the top of the survey - TWO-TIER plan is my only choice.  As Ms. McEvoy admitted, if that was what was written on the surveys, they would compile that info and present it to the Board and the Superintendent.  (McEvoy said the two-tier plan would cost $20M more but again, without any backing data, hard to take that as true.  She also seemed to imply it would take years to implement. The district spends $36M in Transportation now.)

Now, the Superintendent and staff could just shrug and tell the Board, "A two-tier system is too expensive so we must pick one of OUR options."  What then?  I would hope the Board would refuse to do anything without that absolute data on costs in their hands.

2) As I noted below, my first surprise was a second survey.  It is similar to but NOT the same as the online one. 

We were told that "Communications" had created one but not why them or who they created it for.  Was it for the Superintendent?  the Board?  the Taskforce?  All of them? 

This hardcopy one was created by Neighbor2Neighbor in Maryland.  (I would like to ask how much SPS is paying for these services as the meeting did not go smoothly.  I also would like to ask how much the district paid for Enrique Cerna from KCTS to be the host on the video.)

Neither survey had a space for Comments but we were told to go ahead and write them on the back of the hardcopy one.  Oh.  And they would link the e-mail address for comments to the online survey.

We were also told there would be more meetings in September for parents and staff. 

This issue of input from parents and staff kept the discussion lively as several parents kept looking for a direct answer to the question of its use.

That it is unclear who is gathering what information and who will see it and how it is weighted is troubling.  But staff consistently seems to think if they have a couple of meetings and have an online survey that they did due diligence for community input.

I plan on writing to the Board and telling them what I saw and that this does not appear to be a coherent plan for input.  I would also like to ask them if they have discussed how to weigh the evidence themselves.  

Meeting highlights:
  • Michael Tolley, the Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning, dry and quiet as usual in the video, said what I felt was the "ding, ding, ding" thing in his section of video.  He said the district would be "considering all factors involved in the academic day of our students."  That key phrase? "Academic day."  I'll get back to this in a minute.
  • One parent at my table who had attended a Town Hall presentation on sleep and adolescents said that one expert had said changing school times is one thing that could, across all socio-economic levels, help to close the achievement gap. I, too, have seen this said as well.
  • It was noted that students would soon be taking the climate survey (from 3rd grade on) and would be asked about school start times.
  • It was noted in the video that there is also an equity lens to look at school start times as some students may need jobs or have family responsibility for other siblings.
  • Eric McCurdy, head of Athletics, said in the video that changing bell times could affect use of fields with the City and athletic schedules.  That is true except that SPS did change to the Metro league so I don't think that is as big as issue as it would have been in the past.
  • Parents were confused about why high school students use Metro but there is also school buses.  The explanation is around transporting Sped students as well as APP students.  But again, show us the data on these costs.  One parent said why couldn't the yellow buses for those high school students be coordinated separately from all others (meaning dedicated buses for just those students).  
  • It was also stated in one handout that a change might mean more students using the breakfast service (which would be good for both students and district staff).
  • The facilitator, from Neighbor2Neighbor, was a nice guy but started the meeting late saying "that's how it is" and naturally, knew nothing about the inner workings of the district.
  • FYI, here is report from the Montgomery County district in Rockville, Maryland study on bell times from June 2014.  This is a highly-thought of district and the source of the hard copy survey.  They ended up not changing the bell times because of "mixed feedback" and I suspect that is what will happen in Seattle as well.
I stood up to say that students are in school for academics.  Very much to Michael Tolley's statement, academics should be the first and most important priority for this discussion.  But money is always a driver for this district so I think that will dominate the discussion (at least within JSCEE).


Yes, I know that sports and other activities engage and even keep some kids in school.   Could it be harder to access those? Maybe.

Yes, I know that some students have family responsibilities.  Could a change make that harder for some families.  Maybe as well.

But the district's job - to both students and taxpayers - is to provide the best possible education for all students.  And, the district is charged with doing that in an equitable manner, using the most up-to-date information on how to get the best academic outcomes.

One parent got up and said her teens get up early so they don't care about earlier start times and changing them would hurt their volunteer/swim activities.

I personally don't care if a parent wants to view the bell times issues from a one-family lens or school lens or even a districtwide lens.  That's your choice as to how you want to give input.

But I was greatly pleased when not one but two different parents got up and said, change is hard.  But we all adapted.  In real life, bus schedules change all the time.  We adapt.  One woman, a mother of a 1st and 6th grader, said a 9:30 am elementary start would be hard for her but she, too, said she was thinking about how many kids would benefit from this change and everyone else can manage.

Whether or not you agree, it was great to hear a calm, thoughtful input about the issue and its effects.
end of update.

I thought I might summon the energy to pump this out tonight but alas, not there.

However, I will whet your appetite with one tease about tonight's Bell Times meeting -
they handed out a survey.

No, silly whim, not the one at the district website.  It's a different one created by the Neighbor 2Neighbor folks...in Maryland.

Why two?  Well, there's a mystery that no one, not even Pegi McEvoy, could explain. She said there were two because some parents could use online surveys and others liked to come to meetings and fill them out.  But again, why two? No answer.

However, the online one was created by "Communications" which leads to another question which is...why? Why would "Communications" create a survey?  Why not the Bell Times Taskforce?

And get this - NEITHER has a Comments section.  I kid you not.  When I asked, I was told that parents could send comments to the Bell Times e-mail (which would necessitate looking in a third place to give input).  

Parents pressed again and again  - who will see these?  Allegedly both will be compiled and given to the Board and Superintendent (but do I really believe that? Maybe, but if so, then they will then be massaged into whatever shape staff wants.) 

Pinky , are you pondering what I'm pondering?
Sure but we'll never get a monkey to use dental floss.

See you in the morning.

27 comments:

Eric M said...

Study = let off some steam, create confusion, sap energy for change, sow apathy.

When the Superintendent wanted to change bell times (to earlier times) over the summer, he just gave a directive. No lengthy study, no multi-year process.

Done. That's how simple this actually could be. I mean, if one wanted to be "research-based" and "data-driven" and base school start times on what works for young people.

Anonymous said...

Many public entities could have a trashcan in the front of their office that's labeled, "thanks for your valuable input".

In this day and age, all public comment should be cataloged and available for all the public to view on line. If the powers that be choose not to read it, that is their problem.

-NNNCr

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have the email address for input?

- katie

Melissa Westbrook said...

The e-mail is:

arrivaltimes@seattleschools.org

Anonymous said...

The survey put out by communications was really confusing and poorly written, especially for K8s. Better off emailing my input...

K8 mom

Anonymous said...

I was also at the meeting last night. I was dismayed at how poorly the meeting was run. And filling out a second survey while watching a movie (with prompts--watch this part of the video then fill the appropriate part of the survey) was kind of surreal. I felt like I was back in school taking a test.

I still have no real idea who or what Neighbor2Neighbor is. I know I can look it up--but I kind of thought the point of these meetings was for the parents to talk to and get information from the school district about this, not from an intermediary. I was relieved when Pegi McEvoy finally took the mic to explain things because the facilitator wasn't really doing it and things were spiraling out of control.

I think SPS isn't doing a very good job at explaining what what they do--which leads to frustration on the parts of parents. For example, there was no explanation for the out-of-left-field 3rd option (choice of start and end times for high schoolers) and where that came from--other than to be told from someone in the audience that it was the Bell Times Task Force's absolute last choice. And they kept calling Option 2 the "Modified Flip", without explaining that for all intents and purposes, it its a modified version of the two tiered system--which was rejected due to funding concerns. I think a short explanation of these things would have been helpful. (or maybe there was an explanation buried in the pages and pages of handouts we got--but I didn't have time to read them because I was watching the video, taking the survey, and talking to my table mates as directed).

My table came away with the feeling that this wouldn't be decided anytime soon and that our high schoolers probably would not be the beneficiaries of a time switch, should one happen.

North End Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

From the Friday Memo:

"A Bell Time survey will be going out to all parents next Tuesday the 28ththrough an online survey tool.
The survey will be translated into the top ten languages as well as printed hard copies translated into languages will be made available in the schools."

Nothing like more confusion. Which survey is to be translated and available in schools?

I still have a call into Communications about this.

Anonymous said...

Re lack of opportunity for comments on the survey - I emailed the board my comments (but didn't have the bell times task force address). As an elementary school parent the survey was focused primarily on the effect any change would have for my current elementary school students and gave me no opportunity to indicate the impact that I believe a bell-time change would likely have on my students in future years as they entered middle or high school when they would stand to receive the most benefit from the belltime change.

Flipping the bell-times would likely not directly benefit most elementary or K-8 families at this particular point in time, however, many of us strongly support it as it will have tremendous (and proven) benefit to current high school students in terms of academic success and mental health and wellness, and it will benefit our current elementary students too when they reach high school age.
But it was impossible to convey this in the survey which seemed only concerned with whether a change in bell time would inconvenience our families in elementary school in any way at the present time.

There is no way to indicate that many of us would willingly accept a change that has no immediate benefit (or even some inconvenience) for us in the short term because we can see it is for the greater good - the health and academic success of all of the current and future (including our own) high school students.

This is a major oversight in the survey design and it makes me wonder whether this is deliberate- in order to manipulate the findings. You see, if all elementary or K-8 parents truthfully answer the the survey questions about whether the proposed school start and end time positively impacts their child's academics, sleep and wellbeing, and safety, their answers are unlikely to convey much support for the bell time change. After all, elementary students are not the ones currently harmed by the early start times.

Most of us do not just live in the moment (and with regard only for our own self-interest) and we can consider the impact changes will have on our own children in the future, as well as other students, but SPS seems unable or unwilling to consider or allow responses based on this.

Given SPS administration's obvious reluctance to change the schedule, it would not surprise me that this is survey was designed to intentionally underrepresent the level of support for, and positive impact, the bell time change would have.

IMO convenience should not trump sound scientific research and accepted best practices when it comes to setting school start and end-times. And any apparent lack of benefit or positive impact of bell-times changes for current elementary or K-8 students should be used as evidence to support the status quo (even if they don't benefit now, these students will stand to benefit in the future).

Also, why has there been no consideration has been given to reverting to the 2 tier system of bell-times/buses? A 2 tier system would obviate the need to have such a wide range of start/end times in the first place and would accommodate a simple flip of belltimes. The 3 tier system was introduced without community consultation (no surveys for that!) on the basis that it would save the district money. Is there any evidence it is actually saving the district money? If not, I can see no reason for SPS to go through all this rigamarole to rejig a 3 tiered system that is partly the cause of the problem with start times.

Survey comments

Anonymous said...

typo - "And any apparent lack of benefit or positive impact of bell-times changes for current elementary or K-8 students should NOT be used as evidence to support the status quo"

Survey comments

Melissa Westbrook said...

Survey Comments, your comments mirror what was said at last night's Bell Times forum.

Thank you for thinking beyond the immediate.

Keep in mind, that these times should cover 6-8 students in middle school. Naturally that would not cover 6-8 students in K-8s.

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or is it positively chilling when a member of the public feels RELIEVED Pegi McAvoy steps to the mic?

If a meeting is that bad, that confusing, that obtuse, that it takes Ms. McEvoy to reign it in and give it purposeful direction and lead those gathered to get focused on the substanative issue... Oh, that just can't be good.

Ms. McEvoy is smart and hard-working, but she is also the master of saying A LOT without saying anything at all, and being the receptacle for a lot of hurt feelings or mad parent angst while channeling all that input into a quiet, bllind ending alley that goes NO WHEREl. She really is the SPS Captain of "there, there" team.

Perhaps she's only second in command of the "there, there team", perhaps Mr. Wright is truly it's master. But I guess he is assigned to the Board to do the "there, there", whereas Ms. McEvoy is assigned to the unwashed public to do her version of the "there, there" dance.

But hey, that's just my calculus. Maybe I am the one who doesn't get it. Maybe they both are "all that" action figures, not just "there, there" figureheads.

All that to say, that if the meeting didn't go well, the format was poor and the facilitator weak, it doesn't really matter, because SPS simply doesn't plan to take our input seriously anyway. That is unless of course, the majority input dovetails with what SPS has already decided on.


Tired optimist

Melissa Westbrook said...

Tired Optimist, very telling comments.

I'm not sure I believe that senior staff are action figures.

And, a little bird has said that Charlie Wright may be leaving soon (on his own accord).

mirmac1 said...

Melissa, you just made my day, weekend...year!

Anonymous said...

Is there a way to look at the cost of other initiatives taken to close the gap or to improve outcomes and the impact of those measures, and line that up against the cost of changing bell times, even to a two-tier system? What is interesting is that this spending would impact every student in the district.

I suspect that the amount of money spent to improve outcomes in the district would dwarf the incremental $20M to go to two tier, and that those more expensive projects have mixed results at best.

Sports should absolutely not drive the decision.

asdf

Melissa Westbrook said...

ASDF, there is research on the effects of bell times on academic outcomes for ALL students. I don't know that it pulls out the costs but I suspect you are right.

Anonymous said...

@asdf & @Melissa

Excellent! Using deep, critical thinking is how this should be viewed. (you would both do well on SBACs, I suppose). The analysis should cost in the expense of incarceration - you know, the school to prison pipeline. Tax payor's money is tax payor's money.

Kids who are late, tired, and surly from chronic sleep deprivation due to a non-compatible bell time get "tagged" as "bad kids", "failures", "academically struggling", "stupid", "not bright", and/or "oppositional/defiant". Kids from impoverished backgrounds, whose parents/guardians may not have the time/resources to nurture and support their kids and/or advocate for them, with them, in the schools to their teachers, counselors, and principal are especially vulnerable to being diverted off into this school to prison pipe.

What I'm saying is include THAT into the cost analysis of bell times!

Of course, this doesn't even fold in the human tragedy of that generational experience of poverty...

But if the data show when you total up ALL of the costs of not doing anything to the current bell times for middle and high schoolers as compared to the costs of pushing in busses to accomplish a biologically compatible start time, my hunch is that the price of NOT doing anything to fix the bells will pencil out as absolutely exorbitant. Who can afford to keep feeding the prisons? Boy, that is one expensive habit!

Yes, that's right, NOT DOING ANYTHING TO THE CURRENT BELL TIMES is hugely expensive, not to mention unconscionable, unreasonable, crazy, insane, shocking, a no-brainer. If only the Board could get some clarity, and demand the Super and his team 'factor in' the true expense of failing kids, and, the dark places it leads (jail cells), then maybe, just maybe they would fix this, you know, to save lives. Yes. It is that important. Perhaps not for students of West Woodland, whose mistakes or surliness as teenagers won't lead them to being written off or dropping out, but what about what lies in the futures of the little kids in school of concentrated poverty??? What happens to them as they grow up, if they make mistakes or cop a bad attitude because of the effects of being a chronically sleep-deprived teen? A moment of slipped judgment in their lives, will it lead to permanent damage of their futures?

Spend money on busses, or prisons. I'd like to see that analysis done in a rigorous way so as to unmask the true costs and peel away the laissez-faire attitude of the district when it comes to bell times. Appropriate bell times to support student learning are not "nice to haves"; they are "have to haves"!

Tired optimist

Anonymous said...

What about super late start times for students (9:40!?). For all the talk about the potential benefits of later start times (and some of those studies show the impact of moving from a 7:30ish start time to an 8:00ish start time, not too different from what we currently have...), what about the impact on learning for students starting after 9:00? Isn't it just as bad as starting too early? I'm not sure there are any studies, because how many school districts would even consider such late start times??

-2 tiers

Lynn said...

I think it's obvious that we should have two tiers - but I don't believe a 9:40 start time would have a negative effect on academic performance for secondary students. I'd be happy to have an 8:30 start for elementary and 9:30 for secondary schools.

9:40 is an awful start time for elementary students (and for their parents.)

Anonymous said...

A survey of US public schools from 2011-12 shows 34% of high schools start between 7:30 and 7:59, 43% between 8:00 and 8:29, only 10% between 8:30 and 8:59, and less than 4% 9:00 or later. Most high schools start between 7:30 and 8:30, with 8:00 being the average. SPS high schools do not start much earlier than typical.

https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_201381_s1n.asp

-real data

Anonymous said...

Lots of interesting info in this professional report on school start times:

http://www.shorewoodschools.org/uploaded/Family_Resources/general/Impact_of_School_Start_Time.pdf

-real data

Anonymous said...

9:40 start for middle school = 4:10 release

bleeping crazy

Anonymous said...

I don't know relating early start to prison pipeline seems stretchy. I may be missing something here d/t too much sun today. But when I look at prison pipeline, Trenton, NJ and rural Appalachian counties would be places to start per data.

night owl

ProSleep Mom said...

@ 2 tiers
There is a study currently under way in England, looking at whether 10am starts improve academic achievement- you can read about it here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11148930/Teenagers-to-start-school-at-10am-in-Oxford-University-sleep-experiment.html

A previous pilot study had shown a huge increase (50%) in kids passing their quite difficult GCE exam.

But 10 am would be a big leap in America...

@ tired optimist- thanks for your thoughts! I totally agree that all the costs and benefits should be weighed, both of action and inaction. Some are hard to quantify- but reducing rates of obesity, diabetes, alcoholism, health risk behaviors like smoking, drinking and drugs- as well as lowing discipline issues and serious contemplation of suicide, for the price of some buses, is a good deal for schools and society.

And I think the $20 million figure for two tiers belies belief. We have asked Pegi to explain how exactly that figure was determined- I look forward to seeing the calculation.

Here is the information that we have been given on the task force by the transportation department. Each bus costs $66,000 and we have 356 buses. That's a total base cost of $23 million. They have also said our system runs at around 2.5 tiers (I disagree- I think it's closer to 2, but lets use 2.5 in this example.). So going from 2.5 to 2 will almost double the cost of busing? I can't see how this could be true.

The one concern I have about going to two tiers is how the state will view it. Part of the calculation they use is an 'efficiency rating'. I'm not sure how exactly this works, but I get the impression that we could be penalized if they rate us as "inefficient".

Another alternative, which was rated 2nd by the Task Force, would be a variation on the Modified Flip (we called it Best Bio Tiers) where K-8s are in Tier 2. It's less efficient than the Modified flip on the table, but more efficient, by my calculations than what we have now.

I have talked to people who think Tier 3 is not totally crazy for middle school, and actually like it for letting the kids sleep in the am and preventing them getting into trouble in the afternoon. I've heard more who didn't like it- but maybe they would put up with it for three years if they knew it would prevent something like a 20% cut (guessing on this) in our overall transportation funding.

ProSleep Mom said...

@ real data
SPS may have a common start start time- but it's way earlier than the 8:30 or later recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Our culture (adults and teens) is chronically sleep deficient- that is what we need to change, through both public education and improving school bell time policies.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Pro-Sleep, I think she may have gotten that figure from the Montgomery County study. I don't know for certain but that just happens to be about the figure they gave for costs to change the bell times.

Anonymous said...

My kids will be done with middle school soon, so the 9:40 start wouldn't affect us--but I'm having a hard time throwing middle school students and families under the bus, even if it's "only" three years. Those are three very tough years as it is, and three years in which the development of social connections and personal interests are particularly important. Dismissal at 4:10 means leaving school more like 4:20pm. On average, kids might get home at 5pm. How does this leave them time for after school activities, when most middle school age activities are scheduled for late afternoon (evenings are typically reserved for activities for older grades)? Extracurriculars are especially important in middle school, since kids don't get recess and have few opportunities to really socialize at school. With such a late start, it seems like the only option would be school-sponsored teams and activities that meet right after school (and then practice through dinner time...), but those are already overcrowded in many cases. What middle school can provide after school opportunities for 1000 kids?

I'm sure there must be a way to make this schedule work, but it seems very challenging--and it seems to rely on some "finger crossing" that providers will magically find a way to shift schedules around to accommodate a significantly shortened window of youth availability. I'd be curious to hear how and why middle school parents who actually like the super-late-strart think it will work for their family. Or is the idea that it's ok for kids to just give up extracurriculars and enrichment (and PE waivers?) for three years?

HF

kellie said...

What seems to be a common theme for many people answering the survey is the profound feeling that you are throwing at least one batch of kids under the bus, so to speak.

Essentially the survey is asking you to rate your personal convenience and inconvenience with various bell times. With the very strong implication that you believe that some OTHER families or other students will be able to bear those inconvenience more than others. Therefore anyone with empathy is feeling the pain of the other groups.

A three tier system is magical in that it makes one tier, way-too-early and one tier, way-too-late. Therefore, everyone completing the survey is opining on who gets which type of inappropriate bell time and who get the most desirous middle tier.

Does anyone even have an example of another district that has three tiers? I haven't been able to find one.

I am not completing the survey. IMHO, the survey is designed to discredit the problem and generate the only result it can - mixed feedback.

Instead, I am emailing my comments. The e-mail is: arrivaltimes@seattleschools.org