Thirteen days out of the year Dodge City students arrive at school an hour and a half later than usual. While some parents scramble for babysitters, others drop their children off at the usual time, letting them do homework and other activities until school officially begins. It's called the “late-start” program, and not everyone is in favor of it.
“I don't see these late starts being an advantage to anyone,” parent Gretchen Torrez said. “I have witnessed first hand the frustration of late starts over any good that is to have come from them.”
Implemented two years ago at the high school, and new this year for middle and elementary schoolers, the late-start program was initiated in response to new mandates and regulations pertaining to student learning and curriculum standards. It allows school staff members to partake in professional development and training that will allow them to meet growing expectations.
Prior to the late-start program taking effect, professional development sessions would take place on a handful of full days where school was completely cancelled. But following a successful run at the high school, the new system of late-start times was adopted for all grade levels in the fall of 2013.
Because of teacher commitments at the end of the school day, it was decided that late starts would take place at the schools' normal start time. School buildings still open at the normally scheduled time, and district-employed paraprofessionals and other school staff members supervise children until school officially begins. But bus routes run 90 minutes later than normal on late-start days, forcing working parents whose children take the bus to either drive their child to school or leave them at home until the bus arrives.
Also due to the late start, classes run on an abbreviated time schedule, leaving teachers less time in the classroom on those particular days.
In describing the late-start policy, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Judy Beedles-Miller listed what she sees as several advantages.
“The idea behind the 90-minute late starts is to create opportunities for teachers to learn together, share new ideas, gather data and information on student achievement, learn new teaching strategies and provide professional development across grade levels and content areas,” she said. “Our PLC's (professional learning communities) are where teachers can gather data, discuss information on achievement and learn from one another.”
Some advantages Beedles-Miller mentioned include the fact that all students Kindergarten through 12 are now on the same schedule, easing the transportation burden for parents with children in both the high school and lower grade level schools. Beedles-Miller also argued that the late-start programs creates “smaller, more meaningful, learning opportunities.” Students are also in school five days a week, instead of missing a day.
When asked for their own opinion regarding the late-start program, some school employees echoed Beedles-Miller's enthusiasm.
Page 2 of 2 - “As a principal, I love late starts,” Principal of the Bright Beginnings Early Childhood Center Tami Knedler said. “It gives me an opportunity to meet with my teachers on a regular basis. We can focus on one or two topics at a time and then take them right back into the classroom for implementation…. As a teacher, I would attend an all-day training and may gain great ideas, but when I got back to the classroom and the daily routine, it was difficult to implement all that was learned.”
“Meeting frequently allows us to have these helpful conversations as we pace through our curriculum; in time to make changes or try ideas while we are still within a topic,” Dodge City High School teacher Shannon Ralph added.
“I am in favor of late starts,” Central Elementary Principal Bill Pittman said. “I hope we can get the PLC late starts back next year.”
Not all, however, are in favor of the new program, particularly parents. While some see advantages in giving their children the odd opportunity to sleep in, others find the delay challenging in terms of their child's schedule.
Gretchen Torrez is the parent of a first grader and a soon-to-be Kindergartener. She is a PTO president and has volunteered working late starts in the past. She also volunteers three days a week to work with Kindergarteners.
“[Parents] can't be late for work, they can't take the time off without compromising many things,” Torrez said. “It causes a lot of stress.”
“Students in the elementary level need routine,” she added. “They rely on routine in the school days. And although two days a month may not seem like much, it is in their lives. Their days on these late starts causes them stress and confusion.”
After spring break, the district plans to conduct a parent and teacher survey to determine the reception of the late-start program.