Timing is everything in Waukesha's new school schedules

Published on: 5/19/2014

Waukesha Superintendent Todd Gray called the school board's decision on adjusting school times for elementary and high schools 'a win-win.'

It's a win, he said, for elementary schools because it allows them to have 15 more minutes of instructional time each day.

And it's a win, he said, for high schools because it allows them to start school 20 minutes later.

Gray said altering the elementary and high school times was a team effort that included Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction Ryan Krohn, as well as high school and elementary school administrators over the last six months.

Value in later times

Starting high school later has been a goal for Gray for some time, and the new start time (7:40 a.m.) that will be implemented next school year is a step in the right direction for him.

'I've (long wanted) to change high school start times to a little bit later,' Gray said. 'I'd like to start high school an hour later at 8:40 a.m. That's not going to happen. It may down the road.'

The end time for high schools will be pushed back 15 minutes to 3:05 p.m.

Gray said adjusting the high school time was based on research he's done. He believes in research that suggests high school students learn better later in the day.

He also said he's hoping by pushing back the start time that more students will utilize the 30-minute Academic Option period, a study-hall type option for students to voluntarily use at the beginning of the day. Academic Option will now start for high school students at 7:40 a.m., with the schools' first hour beginning a half-hour after that.

More minutes

The state recently passed a bill that ended the requirement of a 180-day school year but kept a specific number of minutes. Gray then began analyzing the minutes for the elementary schools and discovered that Waukesha was last in the county in total minutes for this year.

'I looked at minutes and I saw we're pretty low,' Gray said. 'We've got to start chipping away.'

School Board President Joseph Como said 'the shocking statistic' for him was that Mukwonago had the equivalent to 13 more instructional days than Waukesha has at the elementary level.

'That's a lot of face time with their students,' Como noted.

The additional 15 minutes will now equate to about six days of instructional time for the year, Gray said. The superintendent said teachers have indicated they could use the extra time for more math or reading programs.

'There are a lot of good ideas on how to use it wisely,' Gray said. '(Fifteen) minutes doesn't sound like a lot but when you add it up over the year it will make a difference.'

He said the minutes change allows the school district more flexibility in its schedule. If these changes would have been implemented this school year, the district might not have had to reschedule the two days that were canceled due to the cold, he noted.

'This would allow us to work around that,' Gray said.

Darker concerns

While the board unanimously approved the changes, there was some concern about elementary schools leaving school later in the day, especially when it gets darker earlier during the winter months.

Gray said he would monitor bus routes at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year and would adjust routes within the first couple of weeks, if necessary.

With the changes for the elementary and high schools in place, Gray said the start time for the middle schools could also be adjusted in the coming years.

'That's coming next,' Gray said. 'At this point, I wanted to get a little bit later start for the high schools and I wanted to get 15 more minutes for the elementary schools to be more competitive compared to other Waukesha County schools.'