By Noah Alatza
Students and parents will have an extra half-hour before school on Wednesday mornings, as Westfield Washington Schools recently announced that start times for all of the district’s nine buildings will begin 30 minutes later for the 2018-19 academic year. The delayed time will allow for weekly professional development for WWS staff.
The Westfield Washington Board of School Trustees voted 4-1 to approve the measure at its March 13 meeting. Supt. Sherry Grate said the final decision was made after the district reviewed input from key communicators, nearby school districts and the community. Delayed-start discussions began when Grate took her position as superintendent in 2016.
Grate said over the course of the past five to seven years, professional learning has taken a back seat.
“We are trying to take the steps forward to address needs of those teachers we need to invest in,” Grate said. “The development of staff is essential so we are providing the best practices to serve our students.”
However, Jenni Hoke, a parent of two, said that the district did not ask for her input regarding the recent delayed schedule for next year and didn’t know of the initiative until its announcement.
Hoke said that although other schools like Guerin Catholic have had successful runs with the delayed start, she’s concerned parents of younger children will see the first-hand effects.
“I think this will impact families with younger children that will need childcare. This change may take some time to get used to,” she said.
Grate said the district would like to be able to hear parents’ concerns.
“We have had some parents on the calendar committee, and we had even considered putting a question on a survey but the feedback from the committee at that time, we knew was not something that was best for staff and kids,” Grate said.
The delayed start is similar to other public schools including Zionsville. At Carmel, the delayed start is every other Wednesday.
“The reason we’re looking at every week is because it provides consistency,” Grate said. “If it is a delayed start day it also needs to be ongoing, consistent, purposeful, well thought out and planned to have a positive impact.”
Start times for the rest of the school week during the 2018-19 school year will remain unchanged.
Grate said the time will be dedicated to a variety of training including social emotional learning, readers’ and writers’ workshops and additional professional time.
The 30-minute delay for teacher instruction will be guided by a combination of leadership teams at each school which will work alongside the districts administrators.
Grate said a potential growing pain from the delayed start could be the fact the district is still in conversation with how best to approach start times.
“We have been exploring the research and what is developmentally appropriate for adolescent students,” Grate said.
Grate said parents who may be reluctant at first of the new initiative must take into account the district’s assessment.
“Just like with any change we put in place, we need to be able to step back and assess and evaluate the effectiveness of it,” Grate said. “If we have at any time found it’s not effective, we need to reconsider our plans what adjustments to make, because at the end of the day this is all about the professional development and training for staff that provides the best for our students.”
Throughout several meetings with top administrators, Grate said the one of the largest challenges facing WWS is the lack of consistency across the board.
“We found the greatest challenge was there seems to be this gap for professional development to provide focus that is consistent with learning for our staff,” Grate said. “We want to be focused on alignment, we have six different elementary schools and we want to make sure the experience they are having at one school, that they have at all of our schools.”
Acknowledging the change may affect some parents with before-school care, Grate said the Before and After Care program will provide child care at an affordable cost.
In the event of a two-hour delay, the professional development would be canceled.
Additional pricing and times for Before and After Wednesday-only care along with registration information will be available at wws.k12.in.us on May 1.
Wednesday Start Time (buses will arrive 30 minutes later than normal)
K-4: 9:40 a.m.
WIS and WMS: 8:26 a.m.
WHS: 8:28 a.m.
WWS’s BAC program will provide Wednesday-only care if needed.