Otis considers staggered mornings next year
Teachers at Otis Elementary School are proposing to stagger the start of the school day for the school’s K-3 students in an effort to preserve small group instruction time they fear they’ll lose when class sizes increase next year.
Around 75 parents packed Otis’s multipurpose room Thursday night to get information on the proposal, which could be the first of a number of measures schools will be taking to combat cuts in the district’s funding next year. Those attending said they’re concerned about the impacts the proposal could have on working parents. But others expressed support for the idea.
The proposal, also called a “waiver,” involves a change in the morning start times for K-3 students, and a reduction in instructional time of two hours per week. (Waivers are requests by individual schools, submitted to the school district once a year and valid for one year only, to vary the particular school schedule from that of the district, to meet the needs of the individual school community.) The school would still exceed the minimum instructional time for all students required by the state.
Teachers at Otis are proposing the waiver in an effort to save small group instruction time, which they say benefits students and which increased class sizes will practically eliminate. Otis staff has invested a significant amount of resources in the past four years to develop and implement differentiated instruction for students, and is attempting to preserve this quality of instruction.
The proposal on the table at Otis is in response to reduced state funding, necessitating increase in K-3 class sizes from the current maximum of 20 students per teacher to up to 25 students per teacher at the start of the school year, and as many as 32 students per teacher if the district does not pass a new parcel tax to replace current Measures A and H. The Board of Education is expected to consider whether to place such a tax on the ballot, at a meeting on March 16.
The proposed Otis waiver splits K-3 classes in half, with one group arriving to school an hour later two days a week to allow more individualized attention to the other half during that hour. For kindergartners, the proposal could also replace lunch recess with instruction time, but it would provide small group time four times a week. A longer snack time will be provided in place of those lunch recesses.
Among the concerns raised were hardship for working parents, as well as for families with more than one child, who may find themselves with kids on different schedules. One parent expressed anger over shifting the district’s financial burden to families who would have to find, and pay for, an extra hour of care at an inconvenient morning time.
Safety concerns were also raised, with the possibility of children being dropped off at school early so parents can get to work, or with teachers having to figure out whether the right kids have arrived at the right time.
But many parents expressed support for the initiative by teachers to foresee and plan for the coming changes. Among the suggestions for resolving some of the issues were staggering the afternoon dismissal rather than the morning starting time, engaging some of the current Otis volunteers to run extra activities in the “free” time each group would have, and hiring staff with PTA funds.
Alameda Island Kids, the childcare provider on the Otis campus, has assured the school that they will work with them to accommodate any change in the schedule.
The teachers who presented the proposal to parents emphasized that it is not set in stone, and that the Thursday’s meeting was set up to receive feedback and to tweak the proposal based on concerns parents might raise. The school faces an April 2 deadline to submit waivers to the district.
The teachers and school site council will look at the feedback from Thursday’s meeting and meet again before the deadline to make a final decision on the proposal. An online survey has been set up to collect data on families’ preferences, information about siblings, and to allow for more comments.