School day shortened for Elkhart elementary students

Elkhart Community Schools (ECS) announced shorter school days for elementary students starting this fall.

For the 2014-15 school year, ECS elementary school hours will be 8:35 a.m. until 3:35 p.m. four out of five days a week. On Wednesdays, students will arrive at 8:35 a.m. but dismiss 40 minutes early at 2:55 p.m. to give teachers and faculty time to work on collaboration and lesson plans.

“Due to the community’s vote and passage of the school referenda, we are able to modify the school day for our elementary students based on our transportation fund resources,” said ECS Superintendent Dr. Rob Haworth in a press release.

Part of the referenda money will be used for construction costs and safety features in the buildings. The other part will be used for transportation operating costs such as adding additional bus routes, bus drivers, and reducing the length of walk zones.

The district said it was dissatisfied that some students rode the bus for over an hour both to and from school, and that some elementary students weren’t getting home until 5:00 p.m.

ECS had extended the length of the elementary school day until 4:00 p.m. to stretch limited transportation funds. As a result, the young students sat through lengthy school days and lengthy bus rides home.

According to director of communications for ECS, Shawn Hannon, each elementary school was given 50 minutes of “flex” time to spend throughout the day when the end time was extended. It was not recess, instead it was time teachers could use at their own discretion to supplement classroom material.

The 15 minutes that will be eliminated from the schedule this fall will come from that “flex” time, said Hannon. Students will be dismissed 25 minutes earlier but arrive 10 minutes later.

“No one was happy with last year’s schedules with kindergarteners and third graders coming home after 5:00 in the evening,” explained Hannon.

Students will have a 7 hour school day, which Hannon said is above average for this area.

The Wednesday early release program is nothing new to the ECS calendar. It was in place last school year; however, excessive snow days forced administrators to eliminate early release to recoup classroom time.

Hannon said they’re hopeful that the weather will cooperate this winter and the early release program can continue so that teachers can have extra collaborative time.

“What this time allows us to do is focus on student achievement. Sometimes it is one student who needs additional help, sometimes it is a whole grade level and planning for the next units ahead,” Hannon explained.

Parents of elementary students have, for the most part, expressed relief about the shortened day.

“That’s great because the kids can have more play time after school, when they would get home after 4:00 they’d have to eat dinner,” said parent of two Mary Daly elementary students, Kathie Bennett.

But not everyone is so thrilled.

Domini Tyson said the schedule change is “ridiculous.”
Tyson picked her son up from Mary Daly Elementary School on Wednesday and said the school needed to pick a time and stay with it.

When asked about whether the Wednesday early release would affect her day, Tyson said it will affect a lot of working parents: “to get out of school at 2:55, then the next day get out at 3:35, most jobs are not going to accept that because you have to leave extra early one day a week.”

The ECS Board of School Trustees is reviewing middle and high school schedules and said it will not make a final determination on specific start and finish times until the number of bus drivers available is known.

The first official day of school for all ECS schools is August 15, 2014.

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