The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 9, 2013

Our View: Late starts may not be the best

Late starts shorten instruction time and can be a burden on parents

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Professional Learning Communities were started in a number of school districts to get teachers and staff talking together about student achievement. The fact PLCs do this intense analysis of student data and classroom content is a big plus for students. It may, however, be time to re-examine when the PLCs do this valuable work.

In the Mankato district, each month a day of classes is cut short for students and they arrive two hours later than usual to start their school day. Students who are in a routine to get up early and get to school to tackle their day are instead staying home until mid morning or are dropped off by parents at the regular time to have supervised free time at the school.

Although most students probably don’t complain about the setup, a lot of parents likely find the change in routine to be disruptive. Much has changed in the work world since the Mankato district started the PLC late starts in 2007. Workplace flexibility is harder to come by, many parents are juggling multiple jobs, and shift workers don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to start times. If the school bus is coming two hours later and you don’t have child care before you need to leave for work, it’s a burden. If your child doesn’t qualify for riding the bus and needs a way to get to school after you need to be at work, it’s a burden.

This abbreviation of the school day also comes when schools are trying to squeeze lots of curriculum in around testing demands. Shortening classes nine days a school year doesn’t seem to be the best use of school time.

The Owatonna School Board, administration and teachers (and their union) realized the late school starts had their disadvantages and this year changed when their PLCs do their work. The groups are now going to have a staff training around Thanksgiving break as well as meet regularly before and after school.

Interim Supt. Peter Grant told the Owatonna People’s Press that the district wanted to have a more consistent time to look at student performances and have appropriate time to make adjustments in students’ learning. He said the monthly PLC late-start sessions weren’t always timely to do that. And, Grant said, the arrangement was tough on parents.

That sort of adjustment to make the PLC sessions’ information more timely, get more out of the students’ school days as well as ease the burden on parents makes much sense. Other school districts should pay attention to how the changes affect Owatonna and revisit when their PLCs meet to make sure the time is as useful and as accommodating as possible.