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At the most recent Sedona-Oak Creek School District Governing Board meeting June 20, the school district administration gave a presentation about the new school hours.

West Sedona School principal Scott Keller gave the bulk of the presentation, detailing the administration team’s process and reasoning in changing the bell and bus schedules.

The changes, which amount to an earlier release time for students at Big Park Community and West Sedona schools and later start and end times for students at Sedona Red Rock Junior High and High schools, came about as a way to relieve the exhaustion elementary students feel by the end of the school day, as well as improve professional development time for teachers.

The administrative team, comprised of superintendent David Lykins, principals from each school, the Red Rock Academy director, the outgoing and incoming special education directors, the ELL director, the transportation director, the finance director and the technology director, began meeting in April to address the issue.

After five administrative team meetings and meetings with the respective school staffs, PTSA, PTA and site councils, the administrative team finalized the new schedule, which will go into effect for the 2017-18 school year starting Aug. 9.

“It’s a student-driven decision, really, in the end,” Keller said in the administrative team’s presentation during the meeting.

He said parents and staff at both elementary schools approached him and Big Park principal Debbie Jones throughout the last school year to comment on how tired kids were at the end of the day and how they didn’t seem to be learning as well, spurring the administration’s decision to make a change.

“Taking into consideration all of the multiple factors, the team concentrated on two main areas,” Lykins said. “First, what is best for students academically, and secondly, how do we not reduce any extra-curricular activities or any co-curricular opportunities for any students.”

Both elementary schools will hold class from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the coming school year. According to the administrative teams’s presentation, while the shorter elementary school day addresses those concerns, it is still in compliance with the state-mandated amount of instructional time and is commensurate with the educational research regarding student learning related to time and length of day.

Meanwhile, another priority the administrative team focused on was ensuring that students’ access to transportation and extracurricular activities remained unchanged.

The bell times at the junior high and high school shifted forward 15 minutes to 8:15 a.m. and 3:15 p.m., giving school bus drivers enough time to complete their routes.

Another component of the schedule change was staff professional development days. While Wednesday’s late start at the junior high and high schools remains the same, Big Park and West Sedona moved their early release day from Wednesday to Friday at 1 p.m.

Keller cited parent complaints that it was difficult to pick up their kids early on Wednesdays, while the Friday early release will be easier to schedule around.

“When we were planning and going through this process, we wanted to ensure that we were informing all stakeholders, including parents,” Keller said.

To inform parents of the changes, he and Jones wrote a letter to send home with students at their respective schools.

Big Park sent the letter May 16, and West Sedona sent the letter May 22. Further plans to communicate the change with parents include auto-dial calls, direct letters home and communication through social media and school websites throughout the summer.

Before the administration’s presentation, a parent of Big Park students stood during a call to public portion of the meeting to express concern about the schedule change and the way it was announced. 

“I was just a little appalled by the fact we can’t communicate better than just sending [a letter] home in a kid’s weekly folder,” the parent said. “Some of the things that go home in the kids’ weekly folders don’t get home to parents.”

She added that she did not hear about nor participate in any official discussion regarding changing school times.

Board Vice President Heather Hermen also took issue with how the change was communicated, citing her roles as a parent with a son at West Sedona School, a school district governing board member and a communications professional.

Because she already knew her son’s grades, she said she didn’t immediately open the packet containing his report card and the letter about the schedule change when it was sent home. The first Hermen heard about it was when it was brought up at a picnic.

“Going forward, I think we have to be strategic,” Hermen said. “I think there are a lot of parents out there who don’t even know that the time is changing .... We need a plan.”

The board suggested an ongoing formal review of the effectiveness of the new hours, as well as formal opportunities for both staff and parent feedback.

Also during the meeting, the board approved a motion to raise the minimum school lunch cost to $2.91, approved the list of new hires and other personnel changes, and approved the initial budget presentation, with the final approval to be voted on at the next board meeting Tuesday, July 11.


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