Earlier start times for some Point Loma cluster schools causes controversy
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 06/10/15 - 06:56 PM | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A recent decision by Point Loma Cluster School parents who voted in favor of an earlier start time for Dana Middle and Sunset View and Loma Portal Elementary schools for the 2015-16 year has some parents crying foul.

The Point Loma cluster of schools includes Point Loma High and its feeder schools — Correia and Dana middle schools as well as Silver Gate, Cabrillo, Dewey, Loma Portal, Ocean Beach and Sunset View elementary schools.

Dana Middle’s hours will be changed from 9:05 a.m.-3:45 p.m. to 7:35 a.m.-2:15 p.m. Hours for Loma Portal Elementary will be changed from 9 a.m.-3:20 p.m. to 8:20 a.m.-2:40 p.m. Sunset View Elementary’s hours will change from 9:05 a.m.-3:35 p.m. to 7:40 a.m.-2:10 p.m.

Those proposed new start times, approved by the San Diego Unified School District Transportation Department, will allow all Point Loma cluster schools to be 100 percent aligned while meeting the district’s requirement to be fiscally conservative regarding bus routes.

The vote supporting changing bell times at Dana Middle was 327 votes (64.9 percent) in favor versus 177 votes (35.1 percent) against. At Loma Portal, the vote was 102 votes in favor (50.25 percent), with 101 votes (49.75 percent) opposed.

As a result, the decision has been made to change the bell times for Loma Portal Elementary and Dana Middle for the 2015-16 school year.

“The principals in the Point Loma cluster schools support the proposal to align the start times within the nine schools in the cluster,” said Dana Middle School principal Scott Irwin.

“Our goal is to use vertical and horizontal alignment to sustain and support best practices in education that empower each child with knowledge, skills and values necessary to become confident, self-sufficient adults and global citizens. This will not only meet the needs of the Point Loma families but will also optimize the educational alignment training and teaching practices between all nine Point Loma cluster schools.”

Irwin noted the new starting-time alignment provides parents, staff and students the opportunity to be better informed about previous and future expectations.

“The principals in the cluster are committed to providing professional development opportunities for staff members on Thursday afternoons,” he said. “The alignment of start times will provide staff members from different schools with a common time after school to meet, collaboratively plan lessons and units and develop common goals and expectations both vertically and horizontally across the cluster.”

Irwin added the principals in Point Loma cluster schools are committed to “preparing students for success through the school transitions, from elementary to high school. Vertical alignment in the area of academic, social/emotional needs and executive functioning skills is critical to ensure seamless transitions and optional growth for our students.”

The district outlined several reasons for the school start-time change, including:

• Increased vertical and horizontal alignment strengthens the instructional program.

• Families with students at multiple schools have expressed frustration with start times that vary by up to 1½ hours.

• An earlier start time provides greater access by students to after-school activities like soccer, ballet and baseball.

• The change enhances safety by supporting working parents who begin their days before 9 a.m. by reducing the number of nonsupervised students on campus before school.

• The time change will reduce the cost of providing late busses for after-school activities.

But not all parents in the three affected schools, like George Rutt, who has a child at Dana Middle, are sold on the rationale for making the school start-time change.

“I'm concerned the recent voting procedure used to change the start time for Dana fifth-to-sixth grade school was flawed and may result in a dangerous situation,” said Rutt. “There was no traffic study done prior to the parent voting for the time change, and any arguments for and against the time change were limited and not distributed to the parents prior to voting.”

Rutt pointed out that voting for the new Dana time was limited to students attending next year and “did not allow for other Dana families in subsequent years who will be impacted by this change, for instance first-, second- and third-grader families from the area elementary schools.”

Rutt contended the new time change “impacts the entire area. The proposed simultaneous times will result in impacts in congestion, traffic and safety of students and area residents.”

There are other reasons Rutt opposes the approved school start-time change.

“The current start time of 9 a.m. allows for neighborhood students to walk to school during daylight hours,” he said. “At a 7:35 a.m. start time, these fifth graders will be walking, biking and skateboarding in the dark during winter months. Furthermore, this will be the peak traffic time for the high school drivers arriving for class. Similarly, the end time of school will result in high school drivers simultaneously encountering the Dana fifth- and sixth-grade pedestrians.

“Anyone who watches the area during Dana emptying out at the end of a school day can easily assert this proposed situation is not conducive to a safe environment,” continued Rutt. “A picture of the Chatsworth/Voltaire/Nimitz intersection during this chaotic period would speak volumes.”

Rutt concluded that the school start-time change is “a little confusing to people who really don’t know what the basis was for the decision. Is it just that principals have the decision-making power? In my view, changing Dana’s start time to 7:30 a.m. from 9 a.m. has to be recalculated, as it would reshuffle child care and everything else.”

Rutt said he also objected to the fact that the school start-time vote was taken after parents had already selected a school for their child to go to, which precluded their changing schools for their children if they didn’t like the new start-time at their current school.

Rutt noted there is a “growing chorus both here and nationwide” on the benefits of later school starts suggested at: ehow.com/about_5516430_pros-school-starting-later-teens.html.

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