Bell Times in Seattle Schools: Where Are We?

Where we are today?
  • There have been two of the district's four School Bell Times Community discussion events.  (Anyone go to New Holly on Tuesday night or Garfield on Thursday night?)  I reported back on what I saw and heard at Hamilton.
  • The district has chosen to NOT go with the Taskforce's top picks, citing the Taskforce's agreement with the district on transportation costs.  I would like anyone on the Taskforce who might be reading this to contact me ( and let me know if this is completely accurate.  This is only what I heard from the district.
  • The last discussion event is on Tuesday, May 12th at Chief Sealth at 7:00 pm 
I'll just state a couple of things that I believe.

 - Staff is not being transparent.  There has been no data to back up the "two tiers is too expensive" line.  I heard Director Peaslee say this at yesterday's Executive Committee meeting but she, too, didn't say she had actually seen the data.

- Everything is intertwined in this district so, as you'll read below from the Taskforce Meeting minutes in Feb., there are many moving parts. 

- YOU MUST ACT and e-mail your choice and yes, according to Pegi McEvoy, that choice can be a write-in saying "TWO TIERS."  E-mail:  This is an issue for every single parent in the district so do let your voice be heard.  (Are PTAs advocating at their schools?  I hope so.)

Taskforce Minutes
I read the minutes from the latest Taskforce meeting on Feb. 12, 3015.  (I think that was the last meeting; I can't find later minutes.) I was pretty surprised at seeing some of what was said.
  • Erin Stoen said that beginning July 1, 2015, for students entering 9th grade will be required to complete 24 credits in order to graduate (WAC 180-51-068); Seattle’s requirement is currently 21. 
  • Seattle has requested a waiver to allow more time to plan for this change, as she said it would be a challenge for most students to complete 24 credits in four years in a six-period day. There would be no option to re-take a course or to take advantage of other opportunities. 

  • A task force will being (sic) work in March 2015 to research and recommend a schedule that supports this requirement in a systematic way, including a possible 8-period block schedule option.
I seem to have missed something because I didn't know there was another taskforce working on this new graduation requirement.  I'm assuming it's internal.

Not only are the number of credits for graduation being upped, so are the hours to graduate (which probably makes sense).

  • Misa Garmoe said that beginning 2016-17, the district must provide at least 1,080 hours of instruction in grades 9-12, and at least 1,000 hours in grades 1-8. She noted that high schools will need to increase by as much as almost 80 hours in some cases. “Instructional hours” includes all time from the beginning of the first scheduled class period to the end of the last scheduled class period, not counting time for meals. Although recess counts toward instructional hours, schools are having a difficult time getting in all of the best practice given the parameters of the teachers’ contract and teacher length of day.
  • Physical education: Lori Dunn talked about physical education being part of basic education and that in grades 1-8 an average of at least 100 minutes per week/per year in PE will be required; in grades 9-12 one credit course or equivalent must be offered for each grade. The district is out of compliance in grades 1-8 (only 8 of 71 elementary schools meeting 100 minute state requirement) and that one SPS high school has over a 54% PE waiver rate. The district is also out of Title IX compliance. She said a goal is to increase PE specialists (30 elementary and more secondary specialists) and implement a systematic accuracy in reporting times.
Tied to all this is the struggle for recess for elementary children:
  • The balancing act is how to meet all the requirements coming at the district with limited time (and time equals money and money is limited) and look holistically at the whole child, to include PE and recess time, which is important for students to learn how to interact socially. Parents are asking for more recess time in the day. But schools are struggling to meet instructional times and collective bargaining agreement professional requirements. 
But wait, there's more:
  • Nutrition services: Wendy Weyer said that board procedures state students should have enough time to relax, eat, and socialize (minimum of ten minutes for breakfast, 20 minutes to eat lunch with additional time as needed for standing in line). Things impacting nutrition services are master schedules, impact on recess time, extension of a school day, and labor negotiations and funding. Her intuition tells her that breakfast participation would increase if elementary schools started earlier.
I will just interject here that if our school district cannot find 20-25 minutes in the school day for students to get and eat their lunch, something is terribly wrong, both within our district and from our state (if the things that are regulated are to get done). 
There was also this tidbit (which answers the question of where the second survey came from):
  • Pegi McEvoy reviewed the N2N development underway, responding to concerns expressed by some task force members on options being presented to the community. She noted that the independent survey was being conducted by the superintendent and, like the task force itself, was one of the data points that will be used in the decision-making process. 
I also note that Pegi McEvoy wrote a letter to the Board, dated April 20, 2015 and he explains that there will be three surveys; parent/community, staff survey, and student survey (as part of the annual Student Climate survey).  But there's also the Neighbor2Neighbor survey that either she didn't know about or didn't tell the Board about.  
There are also no timeline for when this work is done in the letter.
The comments on the last page are interesting (partial):
  • A two tiered bus system could be possible and there could be ways to pay for it
  • Understand more on Nathan Hale and how its changed start time impacted learning, nutrition, graduation rates
  • Should ask “Does this support the mission of academic excellence for every student?” instead of equity inquiry
  • Important that other districts have switched bell times without additional costs 
Yes, the district HAS a great example to glean information from in the way of Nathan Hale High School that has had a later start for almost a decade.
Here's an excellent analysis of the issue for SPS by Seattle Start School Later that looks into the transportation issue. Kudos to Dianne Casper, Cindy Jatul, Catherine Darley and Kitty Harmon (as well as the indefatigable Eden Mack of SCPTSA).

Some thought-provoking findings in their report:
  • Because of this structural problem, the “three tier” system never achieved the savings that were promised. In a report to the Board dated Feb, 2012, the actual savings were said to be $2 million, rather than the original projection of $4 million. (We would like to see the details of these savings, because even $2 million seems doubtful after reviewing the data below.) 
We would ALL like to see real and accurate data on the costs/savings from changes in transportation in SPS over the last five years.  

  • This system has never come close to achieving three tiers; we are currently at 2.165 and have not reached 2.3 during the years (2011 to present) for which data is available. 
  • As you can see, our rate of Effective Tiers (Routes divided by number of Buses) is consistently in the low 2’s; we do not have a three tier system in terms of number of buses used. 
  • As Director Carr and others have long stated, we need to ‘shake the etchisketch’ on transportation. Revamping bell times gives us a perfect opportunity to do that. We need to both get rid of the expensive short tiers, and re-evaluate routes to increase use of bus capacity.
Taskforce Top Three Bell Times Options

1) Two Tiers: 
Elementary 8:00 -2:10
Middle/High/K-8 8:50 -3:20
2) Mod Flip 2-( K8 in Tier 2):
Elementary 8:00 - 2:10 
K-8/ High  8:50- 3:20
Middle   9:40- 4:10

3) Mod Flip 1 (K8 in Tier 3)
Same as above, with K-8 in Tier 3
  • All of the top three correct the short tier problem- there is always at least 50 minutes between each tier, thus creating significant cost savings. Some tiers have a 70 minute spread, similar to the 85 minute spread in the schedule from 2008. There is some cost in this having a longer than 50 minute tier, but we calculate it in the low hundreds of thousands, rather than the millions created by the short tier.
  • When the decision on which options to present to the public was made, the Task Force’s top two options were removed from consideration. We did not get an explanation; the task force was only told ‘they cost too much’. An analysis was never provided, and figures were quoted by staff ranging from $16 million to $20 million in additional cost. (For a system such as Two Tiers to save maybe $2 million when you move away from it, to now cost $20 million if you move back, lacks credibility.) 

Our three tier Transportation system has suffered from a major structural flaw, the 30 minute tier, since it was implemented about 6 years ago. This flaw creates significant unneeded costs (approx. $5 million annually); while supporting a bell structure that impedes rather than supports student learning, health and safety.

Changing our bell times to ones that align with children’s changing sleep/wake cycles makes intuitive sense to most people. Hundreds of research papers support this premise, as well as a growing list of endorsements. Add the ability to correct a costly structural problem in our transportation system and achieve this goal with a modest cost (under $2 million for Two Tiers- less if we can re-route effectively) or even save money (Modified Flip 2) is a winning combination.


Anonymous said…
We had a lot of informal discussion on this at my middle school on Friday. One parent told me she likes a later start time, but doesn't like that her children would have to walk home in the dark in late fall winter, especially since there have been so many reports of incidents with strange men surrounding the school. Another said that sports would be affected as there aren't lights. One teacher reported that she wouldn't be able to teach at the school anymore as she lives north, where her child is in day care, and she wouldn't be able to get back to get him in time. This was with the 9:40 start time. I like the 2 tiered start myself, as it's still later than our current time, but would help allay some of the concerns I heard.

Middle-school teacher
ProSleep Mom said…
First- PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE WRITE and ASK FOR TWO TIERS TO BE CONSIDERED! If there is not public pressure, we will never get this option on the table!! (You could also copy in and or to make sure your message gets through.)

Regarding Melissa's question to Task Force members about 'accepting' the cost estimates:
Several people on the Task Force questioned the cost estimate on two tiers, but Pegi insisted it was too expensive to be considered. She provided no details, and as I recall, initially gave a figure of $16 million additional cost (which has since become $20 million additional cost).

Task Force members 'accepted' it, only in that people don't know the details of transportation costing, and expect the staff estimates to be accurate. If Two Tiers did cost $16-20 million, it would indeed be an expensive choice. But several of us thought it seemed extremely high and asked for details; we got no reply to these requests. At the HIMS meeting, we asked Pegi again to provide her calculation for the $20 million figure and the data that support it; we were sent various documents that were irrelevant. We are still waiting for a substantive reply.

Dr Nyland made the choice of options to be presented to the public- I wonder if he has asked for the details of the $20 million estimate?

Regarding community meetings- FYI, there is an additional one scheduled at Ballard on May 19th (day of the walkout).

New Holly was very sparsely attended- more district translators than parents. The few (under 5) parents that were there were from K8s, who correctly noted that they are getting a terrible schedule in most of the scenarios (9 years of 9:40-4:10).

Garfield had over 20 parents and broad support for two tiers. They also had some great discussion points, including:
- athletics should not drive the decision- my daughter is very involved in athletics, but 2 1/2 hours of practice every day is way too much- cutting it by an hour would be great
- sleep education should be a component of this change- our whole society needs this
- 9:40- 4:10 is unacceptable for anyone

@Middle School Teacher- your safety concerns are valid. Three tiers creates safety issues for kids at both the early and the late tier. Regarding day care concerns, I think this decision should be driven by what is healthy for our students and can help them academically. It is not possible to have a schedule that works for everyone, but people tend to adapt to schedules as they have to. Families generally have to deal with several different bell times as their children progress through the system- and they adapt. Giving ample notice (7-9 months is the plan) is important, as is creating accommodations where significant hardship occurs. Currently, some students who work jobs that help support their families have permission to leave school early to do so. Make the schedule to support kids in general, but make special arrangement where greatly needed.

Again- PLEASE WRITE IN RIGHT NOW! It only takes a minute, and could change the lives of 52000 kids for years to come.
Anonymous said…
Another problem that the 3-tiered system causes, that has been over-looked, is the availability of buses for field trips. It is much more difficult to schedule full-day field trips, because the buses have to be back in time for the 1st tier school dismissals.

Some field trips are either being cut short or not offered any more.

- North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
I am on the 24-credit task force. We started a couple of months ago. We will be meeting for a year, so no recommendation yet and way, way too soon to assume any particular scheduling recommendation. But we are looking at bloc scheduling to see what advantages and disadvantages it has. Cleveland STEM does a bloc schedule and it lets them fit in more classes, something that is appealing for schools working to get kids extra support, or a buffer if they fail a class. Or, say, enough leeway for kids to take PE and not have to pursue a waiver if they want 4 years of math and science, arts/music and world language. Nathan Hale also has a modified schedule for 9th-graders that incorporates blocs, and gets in 7 periods.

The 24-credit/1080 hour is actually pretty old legislation -- in was laid out 2009's HB 2261 (the basic education finance reform bill). Originally, middle school instructional time was also supposed to be increased, but the legislature changed it last year at the request of school district administrators and board directors. (WASA and WSSDA) Implementation was on hold until funding for more instructional time came through. (Which it did in the 2013 budget.) Originally, the 1080 hour requirement was for each grade, 7-12, but after changes last year it can also be figured as district average of 1027 hours across grades 1-12. This all addresses the old "the state only pays for 5 periods."

And yes, this likely affects contracts. ... BTW, another appealing feature of a bloc, or modified bloc, is the potential to increase teacher planning time.

The task force is figuring out ways to communicate and engage, but outreach and feedback is definitely something we are talking about. (state board) has all sorts of info to explain what's coming... Incidentally, Nathan Hale requires 23 credits, but they also rely on fund-raising to cover the budget.

The task force could use members with a spec ed/ELL lense, so if you're interested, please apply.

Ramona Hattendorf
kellie said…
In many ways, it is almost irrelevant if changing to two tiers costs $20 M. (despite the simple fact that changing to three tiers was projected to save $4M and only saved $2M). If indeed it does cost $20M, then question is does this produce $20M worth of value for students and families and the most likely answer is yes.

This is simply because schools are in the education business, not the bus business. Transportation is 4% of the budget at an estimated cost of $27 M. The point of the task force was to make recommendations that were in the best interests of teaching and learning and THREE tier is simply not in the best interest of any student.

Three tiers means that 2/3 of students have an inappropriate bell time.

Pulling all of the real task force recommendations and then pretending that this survey reflects the work of the task force is disingenuous at best and deceptive at worst.

Additionally, the concern about *efficiency* is a ridiculous. SPS enrollment has grown by 7,000 students and is not transporting almost 7,000 FEWER students. Efficiency also includes having students walk.

I am not completing the survey and instead emailing my comments.
Anonymous said…
Any clue which high school has such a high waiver rate for PE? Having a waiver for sports at Nathan Hale has been great. They still have to take one semester of PE but the 2 other semesters can be covered with sports. There are a lot of sports to choose from and almost all of them have JV teams for those who may be new to the sport. The sports are a great way to meet other students and make life long friends.

Lynn said…
I would guess Garfield. No PE is required for any student taking six full credit classes per semester for all four years.

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