Adjustment slow to new elementary school schedule

With tardies up across the board at Ashland's three elementary schools, some parents say it's harder to get kids to school now that class starts 15 minutes earlier than last year.

"It was a shock at first," said Bellview parent Christine Compeau. "The mornings are tough. We needed that extra 15 minutes, and they took it away from us."

Although Compeau said she and her twin daughters have adjusted, the number of tardies recorded between September and December has grown by at least 300 at each school since last year.

Walker Elementary recorded the highest jump, with 1,450 tardies this year, compared to 697 last year. Bellview recorded 1,354 tardies, up from 985 last year.

The district implemented the early start to help synchronize bus schedules and allow for an early release on Wednesday afternoon, when teachers meet for professional development, said Samuel Bogdanove, director of student services.

Is there a problem here?

School officials said the rise in tardies is not simply due to an earlier start time. Tardies are a constant problem for some, officials said, and latecomers vary widely from year to year.

"I don't think it's really the 8:15," said Meg Wright, the office manager at Bellview Elementary. "People don't seem to think it's important to be on time. Most of those kids who are tardy are here within 5 minutes of 8:15."

Wright said the school is working on strategies to get kids in class on time, but that the same children are habitually late.

"At the elementary school level, it's not the kids that are making themselves late," she said. "It's the parents."

The sudden increase in tardies over last year is misleading, Bogdanove said, especially when compared to numbers two years ago. Helman and Walker reported almost identical numbers of tardies in the fall of 2005 as the fall of 2007, but Bellview saw a two-year increase of 748 tardies.

"If you look at it over three years, you would see a lot of variability," he said.

The data needs more analysis to determine whether the problem is widespread or concentrated with a handful of students, he said, and the district will seek parent input on the schedule changes in a survey next spring.

Walker Elementary Principal Patty Michiels said she has seen recent improvement.

"We've been more about starting on time this year," she said. "We've put more of a focus on having intentional activities at the beginning of the day."

Early release days

Also new this year are the early-release Wednesdays, when students leave class at 1:30 p.m. That change was accepted more readily by parents and students than the earlier mornings.

Compeau, who didn't particularly appreciate the earlier start, said the extra time on Wednesday afternoons was perfect for her daughter's piano lessons.

And Diane Schaffer, whose grandson attends Bellview, enjoys her new childcare responsibilities on Wednesdays.

"I appreciate the opportunity to pick my grandchild up on every early day and have to time to really be with him," she said.

For parents who can't pick up their students quite so early, schools started after-school homework clubs to fill in the extra time. Teacher assistants at Bellview also started a Spanish class and a jump rope club to give kids additional options.

"I think it's fun, and you get to jump and listen to music," said Diana Gilliland, one of about 20 children who attend the weekly jump rope club. "Before I just walked home and it was kind of boring."

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