Grand Island Public Schools is making a number of changes to schedules at all levels starting with the 2017-2018 school year. In addressing district needs, the changes will impact the school day start and end times as well as the need to make up days lost to weather.
"These changes are a direct result of what we've heard from parents, community members and staff," said GIPS Board of Education president Bonnie Hinkle. "We are better able to 'teach hearts as well as minds' with this new schedule."
GIPS superintendent Dr. Tawana Grover agreed.
"These solutions support systems thinking and address needs and concerns from our stakeholders," she said. "For GIPS to offer a guaranteed and viable curriculum, students must have access to - and allotted time for - instructional delivery promoting the fidelity of our initiatives."
In order to accomplish everything the district is trying to do, one major change had to take place: extending the elementary school day. Elementary will still start at 8 a.m., but will now release at 3:30 p.m., adding 25 minutes to the day.
Outside consultants from both District Management Group and Cross & Joftus have mentioned the unusually short GIPS elementary day compared to other districts they work with.
"This allows us the ability to add more learning, enrichment and guidance into every elementary student's day," said Josh McDowell, GIPS Chief Academic Officer. "What we are doing for students in elementary better prepares them for the secondary experience our community has helped design."
The additional time added to the elementary day builds enough time into the schedule over the course of the entire year to allow GIPS district-wide to absorb up to three days lost to weather, rather than forcing students to make the time up on scheduled break days.
GIPS staff, due to the negotiated contract, will still make up days lost at the the end of the school year, as is previously planned in the district calendar.
In addition to extending the school day, the new elementary schedule allows for:
- Specialists (P.E. teachers, music teachers, guidance counselors, media/technology specialists) will meet with every student for 50 minutes one day a week, plus a rotation on Wednesdays. Specialists will be at one building for an entire day, rather than moving between multiple schools within a day as many do currently.
- Teachers and specialists will now have 50 minutes four days a week and a minimum 25 minutes Wednesday of uninterrupted plan time, plus the time on early out Wednesdays.
- The schedule changes will allow for classroom transition time.
Plan time has been a large focus for teachers and the district has recognized a need to provide more time for staff to prepare, collaborate and design effective learning opportunities for their students.
"There was a need voiced quite clearly from staff, and rightly so, about time for planning," Grover said. "For our staff to be as effective as possible in the classroom, they need time to plan lessons and understand the data about each student. This schedule now allows for that."
The changes also bring balance to buildings. Every student, regardless of the size of their school, will receive the 50 minutes every week with a P.E. teacher, a music teacher, a guidance counselor and an integration specialist. The time students have with these staff currently ranges widely depending on the building.
"Having every student get quality time with each of these specialist every single week will better allow us to teach the whole child," McDowell said. "We know we want all students to have time with physical education, music education and technology and media instruction. We also know from our high school visioning work how important it is for all students to receive time with guidance counselors working on life skills, career exploration and character development."
The overall amount of P.E. time on a four-week schedule does decrease. Currently, the total time for students in P.E. every four weeks is 290 minutes, minus time for transitions to and from the gymnasium and class. The new schedule will allow for 230 minutes over the same time period. This is a similar amount of time other districts allocate for P.E., GIPS found during its research.
In addition, all elementary students will have a second recess break every afternoon. This is new for grades 3-5, adding in an additional 240 minutes of physical activity for students.
The district continues a commitment to literacy with the new schedule, maintaining 90 minutes of reading time, plus mandatory minimum times for math, science, social studies, W.I.N. time and flex time.
W.I.N. time allows teachers to give individual students interventions or extensions they need for reading on a daily basis. Flex time is 25 minutes every day for teachers to give kids what they believe is needed. It could be art instruction, free reading time, interventions or extensions in any subject or even class projects.
"The utilization of Flex time is completely up to the teacher because the teacher knows what the kids need most," McDowell said. "If a teacher believes extra time is needed for math one day, they can allocate that. If they want to invite a guest to read aloud to the class, do a project or discover something new, it is all possible with flex time."
The district has long heard feedback from parents about the difficulties getting students to multiple buildings by 8 a.m. Also, traffic around certain clusters of schools can be difficult to maneuver for drivers.
GIPS had designed a solution by staggering the start times for the three different levels:
- Elementary will be 8 a.m.-3:30 p.m.
- Middle school will be 7:45 a.m.-3:15 p.m.
- High school will be 8:15 a.m.-3:40 p.m. (early bird at 7:15 a.m.)
"We've heard from a number of parents who struggle to drop off students at an elementary, a middle school and at Senior High on time when all start at 8 a.m.," Dr. Grover said. "This staggered start time schedule should help alleviate those issues. High school students who drop off younger siblings at other schools will now be able to get to Senior High safely on time."
Grover said parents have been active in helping the district solve these issues.
"I must thank the parents and community members who have given us feedback and suggestions on these issues," Dr. Grover said. "Credit for these solutions completely goes to them."
As the district enters the 2017-2018 school year ready to plan high school Preparatory Academies, these changes at the elementary level and with the staggered starts play right into the strategic planning process.
"Everything we do is focused on our students," Dr. Grover said. "We will continue to take feedback from parents and the community, as well as the teachers and staff who spend the most time with our kids, all to make the best decisions we can to get our students future ready. These changes all align with that goal."