Longer school days in Spokane are coming, whether students like it or not.
Washington already has one of the shortest elementary school days in the United States, and the school day in Spokane Public Schools is shorter than most others statewide. Additionally, a new court-ruled definition of basic education requires K-6 students to spend at least 1,000 hours in school each year. Students in grades 7-12 must spend 1,080 hours.
The trick is figuring out how to shift schedules and pieces of school time around to make sure they fit together. A district task force thinks they’ve worked that out, and they made their proposal to the school board Wednesday night.
“How we use our day as well as the shortness of our day are what we’re trying to solve,” said task force member Tennille Jeffries-Simmons, a human resources officer for the district.
Manipulating the schedule was difficult, said Linda McDermott, chief financial officer for the district and also a task force member. How much time do students have for breakfast? When does the sun rise in the winter, and when does it set? What does a schedule change mean for participating in extracurricular activities? What works best so middle-school students spend less time waiting for a bus after school?
The proposal suggests starting elementary school at 8:30 a.m. rather than 9, adding 30 minutes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. The district needed to add instructional time to K-6 more than any other grades, school officials said. Start time would be 9 a.m. on Thursdays.
High school and middle school would add six minutes per day. Seventh- and eighth-graders would start at 9:05 a.m. and go to 3:41 p.m. except Thursdays, which would begin at 9:35 a.m. The high school schedule would be 7:50 a.m. to 2:26 p.m., starting at 8:20 a.m. on Thursdays.
“We built in time for breakfast so kids actually have time to eat,” McDermott said. Students in all grades who get breakfast at school would have at least 20 minutes before class to eat.
The change would also mean middle-school students who ride buses would no longer have to wait up to 40 minutes.
The schedule increases K-6 class time in science, health and fitness. Spokane allows less time on science compared with the average for students nationwide. Music would be taught 30 minutes twice per week, and there would be more technology skills instruction.
“We tried to figure out a way to invest in more instruction for students and teachers rather than buying more buses,” McDermott said. “That was a key value for us.”
Jeff Bierman, school board president, said getting students more time in front of teachers is most critical. “I can’t express enough the urgency of getting something in place as soon as possible,” he said.
The board will make a decision after taking public comment. The goal is to have a plan in place by this fall.
A majority of parents responding to a Facebook query on the issue said no to a longer school day because their kids are grumpy in the morning or they think six hours is long enough.
But with the court ruling, change is coming anyway.