School Stock 2

In an ongoing effort to find innovative approaches to teaching, everything from curricula to building efficiency, Rockingham County Public Schools is proposing staggering start times for elementary versus middle and high school students. 

Superintendent Oskar Scheikl recommended to the School Board that elementary school students start the day at 8 a.m. and end at 2 p.m. The start time for middle and high school students would be 9 a.m. and dismissal would be 3 p.m. This would not only stagger start times, but shorten the day. 

That compares to the existing schedule for all schools of 8:15 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The basis for the changes comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics, whose research suggests that secondary students perform better when their day begins later. 

A number of school districts use staggered start times, including Albemarle County. Seattle Public Schools implemented the approach a while back and found significant benefits to students, Scheikl said.

"The specific approaches vary greatly, but the main idea is to allow middle and high school students to start school later," he said.

As an additional benefit, some of the division's bus drivers would be able to do double-runs, although that wouldn't be the case for the longer routes.

One significant difference to Scheikl's recommended approach is that he is proposing shortening of the school day to provide teachers with schoolwide planning time.

"We are asking our educators to design engaging, authentic, cross-curricular learning environments, and that is difficult work, requiring teachers to collaborate with their colleagues," Scheikl said. "Available planning time, especially in collaboration with other teachers, has been a major obstacle to implementation of more creative learning environments."

A few challenges that this model presents are having to narrow the curriculum to shorten the school day, as well as parents having to adjust child care and after-school programs to accommodate an earlier release time for elementary school students. 

The proposed changes would be for the next school year. The School Board must approve the recommendation. 

Contact Megan Williams at 574-6272 or mwilliams@dnronline.com. Follow Megan on Twitter @DNR_Learn

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