Parents respond to proposed changes

ELKINS – A crowd of about 100 people turned out for an informational meeting at North Elementary School Monday evening, including parents concerned about a proposed schedule change that would have their children – as young as 5 years old – reporting to school at 7 a.m. each school day.

Principal Cynthia Bodkin asked the Randolph County Board of Education last week to consider changing her school’s master schedule, having students arrive around 7 a.m. and begin instruction at 7:15 a.m., with classes ending at 2:50 p.m. each school day. Traditionally, North School students begin instruction at 8:25 a.m., while classes end at 3:35 p.m.

At Monday’s meeting at the school, one parent said her first reaction was to ask who would be receiving these children with the earlier dismissal time.

“I don’t see this listed on the disadvantages, but the very first thing that came to my mind is how the kids will get home in the afternoon, and if there is anyone to receive these children,” she said. “Because they are so young – older kids can let themselves into their homes, but these younger kids cannot do that… In most families, both parents work.”

Bodkin said she contacted three of the four day cares used by North Elementary students and those businesses were on board with the proposed schedule change.

Parent Kim Wilkie said she currently uses the after school program at the Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church.

“They are not normally open that early,” Wilkie said. “They are going to have to bring in additional staff, which means my cost is going to go up per week. Have you thought about parents who will have to pay more money and how that affects us financially?”

Bodkin said she had left messages at the Presbyterian Church afterschool program, but had not yet spoken with anyone there.

“What time will my daughter arrive there with the changes?” Wilkie asked. “Won’t the bus ride be longer with the middle and high school students?”

Bodkin said officials were currently only using estimates. She said officials would not know actual times until drivers actually perform the runs.

“If this is a definite proposal, we will go out in the buses and drive and time the runs,” Bodkin said, meaning if she recommends the proposed schedule change to North Elementary’s Local School Improvement Council. The LSIC may then make a recommendation on the proposed schedule change to the Randolph BOE. Board members would have to approve any schedule changes.

Bodkin said the change in schedule was being considered because North School received the designation of a “support school” based on its test scores, which is the second lowest designation in terms of educational progress.

“Because we are a support school, a (Regional Education Service Agency) team came in and did a diagnostic visit,” Bodkin said. “They observed classrooms, they talked to students, they interviewed teachers and looked at all of our schedules. One of the first things they said was we need to look at our schedules because they contain lots of down time.”

Bodkin shared handouts showing last year’s start and ending time of 8:25 a.m. and 3:35 p.m., which gave the school the minimum number of instructional minutes required for an elementary school. The new proposed schedule beginning at 7:15 a.m. and ending at 2:50 p.m. would earn the school an additional 25 minutes per day of instructional time, which Bodkin said is important in building “bank time” that can be used in case of school closures for bad weather or other reasons. Bodkin said the extra time also allows more instruction for the students to help improve test scores.

With the proposed schedule, buses would only make one run each morning and afternoon to pick up students from grades kindergarten through 12th grade, saving two trips during the day for each bus.

“The advantages we are looking at are more instructional time, more flexibility in our schedule and less down time,” Bodkin said.

Parent Brian Moudry asked Bodkin if she had explored any models other than adding another hour to the schedule.

“Is there any flexibility to add 10 minutes here and five minutes there?” Moudry asked. “Is there anything we can do rather than the dramatic cut in time and is this model something that is being explored – can it potentially be modified?”

“I have tweaked and tweaked the schedule and cannot get more time,” Bodkin said. “The problem is our buses go clear to the Tucker County line. And then they come back, and have to go back to the line and in again. We are not really an in-town school. The school should have been built further out.”

Randolph County Superintendent of Schools Terry George was present at Monday’s meeting, but said he did not want to get involved answering questions because he is not the principal of North Elementary.

“I will answer some questions,” George said to Wilkie.

Wilkie said the question was for both George and Bodkin.

“I understand the need to save money and accrue minutes for snow days,” Wilkie said. “If this is about raising test scores, what changes are going to be made to the curriculum to make these 25 minutes and the other minutes during the day more effective, rather than just adding 25 minutes of ineffective curriculum to raise test scores?”

George said the teachers have a plan.

“They met with RESA representatives and are going to increase the rigor and make a lot of fast, quick-paced exercises that are going to take place in those additional 25 minutes in the day,” George said. “They are going to work with students to increase their ability to improve their scores on their test. They will have more time to work with your students. Research shows the more time they have with your kids, the more successful they will be.”

George said doing the same thing you have always done and expecting different results is the dictionary definition of insanity.

“That’s what I am saying,” Wilkie said. “I don’t want to see 25 minutes of the same thing.”

Another parent asked if the 25 additional minutes would cut out some of the students’ homework.

Bodkin said students would still need that reinforcement at home.

“Tonight is just an informational meeting,” Bodkin said. “The reason I sent you a letter is because I want your input.”

George said he wanted those present to share information, ideas and comments in the form of letters and emails to Bodkin.

“Then she will have the information to make the correct recommendation to the board,” George said. “No decisions are going to be made here tonight. No decisions are carved in stone. What I want you to do is take the time to sit down and send (Bodkin) an email, send her a letter. Put it in writing. What are your objections? If you are in favor, tell her why you are in favor.”

George said the Randolph BOE has discussed going to just one bus run per morning and one per evening for each county school bus.

“We really would like to target next year, not this year, to go to one schedule for everyone in Elkins,” George said. “We would push the time back to 7:30 a.m. as a starting time and a 3:30 p.m. release time. The board, I know, would support something like that, simply because, logistically, it is better for all of us.”

Following the meeting, George said he thought Monday’s meeting was productive.

“I think parents came in tonight with some very well thought-out questions,” George said. “I think Mrs. Bodkin did a very good job of presenting her position tonight. I think it raised the question of what is going to be best for the kids.”

George said he believes Bodkin will receive additional feedback from the parents.

“I think she will evaluate the data she receives before she comes to the board to make a proposal,” George said. “The purpose of tonight’s meeting was to gather information from people who live in this attendance zone. There was a very intelligent group of people here tonight with very, very good questions. The people here are showing a commitment to their kids.”