Alamsoa High School student Madison Howard addressed the Alamosa Board of Education on Monday. She is not in favor of extending the school day.
Courier photo by Lauren Krizansky
Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — It’s a matter of time and how the Alamosa School District (ASD) students are going to spend it, pass it and make every minute count for a future where dreams come true.
Time is also a matter weighing heavily on the Alamosa Board of Education (ABOE), and the ASD administration, staff and students. Since passing the 2013-2014 academic calendar in April, the concerned company has publicly scrutinized ASD’s instructional time policy, considered adjusting school hours, tabled the approval of the Alamosa Education Association (AEA) Master Agreement, and offered solutions to satisfy both the state’s demands and the communities education expectations. Decisions and questions still hang in the air, but with more clarity after a work session Tuesday evening.
The work session followed the ABOE’s regular board meeting on Monday night. After again hearing comments from the audience regarding the instructional time policy and recognizing a discomfort with the ratified AEA master agreement, the ABOE tabled taking any action on both items, choosing to host the work session that will now ultimately lead to a special ABOE meeting to move forward with the coming school year.
What students and teachers are doing in the halls between classes is what keeps the instructional policy in question.
Last month, the ABOE took the policy up for review to possibly amend what the ASD considers instructional time. As it stands, the ASD does not consider passing periods between classes a moment of “achieving an educational objective.” The ABOE, however, approved the 2013-2014 school calendar that includes 25 minutes of passing periods as instructional time, which the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) approved, and allows the ASD to meet Colorado Compulsory School Attendance Law regulations.
In the mean time, Alamosa High School administration decided to start the school day at 8 a.m. instead of 8:05 a.m. beginning this fall to take a step towards solving the time discrepancy. The decision coupled with passing periods counted as instructional time keeps the school in CDE compliance.
Ortega Middle School (OMS) students will see an earlier start time this fall, too, said OMS Principal Susie Paulson. Without having the “numbers in front of her,” she said she expects a new start time to fall in between 7:50 and 8 a.m. since the last bus drops students of at 7:45 a.m.
In addition, OMS is reducing its passing periods from five minutes to four, an option AHS does not have because its hallways are so tight.
“Our halls are so narrow with so many kids,” AHS Principal Glen Hodges said. “You just can’t move them that fast. If our halls were two feet wider, it would work.”
ABOE Official Keith Vance and a group of parent supporters are not in favor of considering passing periods as instructional time and are proposing a shift in academic time management. Concerns include meeting impending state graduation requirements, which if enforced this year would have kept 40 Moose from receiving a diploma; and, chiefly, providing ASD students with “excellence.”
“I think we are a great school district, but we aren’t as good as we could be,” Vance said to open the work session. “We are probably not the highest achieving school district in the Valley. We have the opportunity to close the gap.”
His recommendation on the table to stop the amendment is to: change the work day to not exceed 8.5 hours; remove the requirement that teachers have to arrive 15 minutes before and stay 15 minutes after their assigned work schedule, which would increase the school day 30 minutes; and include a work week clause to not exceed 40 hours, guaranteeing teachers are not working 8.5 hours, five days a week. This would increase instructional time upwards of 70 hours.
“I’m not here to say teachers don’t work hard enough,” said Vance, whose remarks about how ASD staff use their time been found offensive as of late. “I’m here to say let’s help our kids.”
The night before, the “kids” shared their thoughts on what they would find helpful.
“This is far inappropriate because it will make students want to transfer schools,” said Alamosa High School (AHS) senior Kelli Gile about increasing the school day length. “I might as well go to Monte.”
The temptation for a student to change school districts, she said, comes from having to spend the same amount time in school over five days versus four, which is a common Valley school district schedule. High school students on a four-day a week schedule can work a full day on Friday, which she equated to an extra $50 a week.
She also explained to the ABOE the school day length increase would impede on her and her peers’ homework time.
“It’s enough to do two math assignments or write an English paper,” Gile said. “This is cut out of my personal time.”
Classmate and student athlete Madison Howard also addressed the ABOE with disdain.
“I strongly despise it,” Howard said. “As an athlete, at 7:45 in the morning I am talking to my teachers.”
Her teachers, she added, use their mornings to ensure they are prepared to deal with student athletes like Howard and anyone else who might walk through their door.
“It will be tough on the teachers, too,” Howard said. “They are always there in the morning... always there to help us.”
ABOE Official and master agreement negotiations committee liaison Christine Haslett said during the work session the policy and school day length discussion were rushed, required more time to craft a solution and should remain an agenda item for the many decision makers involved.
“It was thrown at us and it was demanded,” Haslett said. “We should not strong arm people and cause this fraction.”
She added, recalling negotiations committee talks, “It was agreed to count passing time because CDE counts passing time. We decided to talk about it and bring it in next year.”
Vance concluded, “I have a really hard time signing off on that because I don’t believe it is honest or truthful.”
Hallways and lunch breaks
Long gone are the romantic high school days of messing around in the halls between classes. The 21st Century Alamosa student is fighting a sea of teenagers and adults to exchange books from a locker, use the restroom, talk to teachers and make it to the next class in five minutes.
“That chaos is good,” said ASD teacher Dehlia Mahaney to the ABOE on Monday night. “That is when we know he/she is having a problem that might impede on everyone in a classroom situation.”
On Tuesday, Hodges said he was concerned the proposed changes and ongoing debate would only make problems for the entire student body. He said he, too, knew students were mentioning enrolling in another Valley school district. Parents, he added, would continue to operate on the existing school day schedule, taking their students out of the same class early and on a regular basis to miss time that he believed would only be ultimately “absorbed” instead of utilized for instruction.
ABOE Official and master agreement negotiations committee liaison Neil Hammer recommended cutting back the AHS lunch break 10 minutes to a half an hour to increase instructional time, which Hodges, again, said would only cause uproar.
“It will be a tough sell getting kids back to class in time,” he explained, noting the students are allowed to leave campus for lunch, giving them an opportunity to give back to the community that loyally supports the Moose.
“We tap our community hard,” Hodges said. “One of the ways to pay it back is letting our kids eat out at lunch... Any change to the lunch period will be met with resistance from the kids.”
ABOE Official Arlan VanRy said there was an up side to keeping students on campus.
“There will be more kids eating school lunches and less accidents,” he said.