District negotiates new schedule

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This article is from the print edition of The Oracle published February 14, 2020.

Update March. 9, 10 a.m.: Superintendent Nellie Meyer released the bell schedule pictured above and below last week. The schedule is a product of negotiations between the District Teachers Association and members of the district and is likely to be ratified by the MVLA school board.

After almost a year of negotiations involving instructional minutes, student wellness, and feasibility with the academic calendar, the district office and teachers’ association have developed a possible bell schedule for next year. 

According to David Campbell, president of the District Teachers’ Association, the schedule has moved past the negotiations stage and is being brought to the School Board of Trustees. The proposed bell schedule includes components such as an 8:40 a.m. start time every day, block days Tuesday through Friday, and a 50-minute tutorial period twice a week. However, this is not the first proposal, and the road to  developing and coming to an agreement between the whole district has been a major process.

When the California State Senate began considering the idea of SB-328, the bill passed in Oct. 2019 to push back public school start times to 8:30 a.m, and exclude zero period in the 64,800 instructional minutes required yearly the Board of Trustees started talking about the changes that would need to be made if they wanted to accommodate the new rules. 

The board assigned two negotiation teams, one from the district office and one from the teachers’ association, to start discussing possibilities. The teams gathered feedback from community members to better understand the changes they wanted to see in the bell schedule and school’s calendar. 

“We need a schedule that provides room for innovation in the classroom, and more time to delve into different types of things,” Superintendent Nellie Meyer said. “As the teams are meeting, every conversation they’ve had has talked about how the schedule will impact students in a positive way. There’s definitely a joint agreement on the importance of that.”

The teachers have been educating us about enhanced learning, and how block schedules allow them to spend more time with students, enhancing teaching as well

In regards to changes in the bell schedule, parents have expressed concerns about their children’s sleep schedule and mental health. 

“Maximizing sleep is something that’s very important. We’ve had a lot of parents come to our board meetings to express their interest in coming up with a schedule that allows their child to get more sleep,” Sanjay Dave, the president of the Board of Trustees, said.

In addition to concerns about student sleep, the district wanted to create a schedule based on enhanced learning and student wellness. According to Meyer, teacher interests include more block days to “increase engagement and academic achievement.”

“The teachers have been educating us about enhanced learning, and how block schedules allow them to spend more time with students, enhancing teaching as well,” Dave said. 

I just feel like there were individual interests from board members that were not necessarily supported by any of the documentation, outreach, feedback from students, staff, [or]administrators

In Sept. 2019, both negotiations teams started making the bell schedule keeping in mind wellness and interests meeting the instructional minutes. It took them about six months, and they proposed it with the hope to have the bell schedule and calendar resolved before the holiday break. The schedule was not approved by the board.

“Conversations were still ongoing and there were still some things that we needed to come to agreement on,” Meyer said. 

According to Campbell, there were some pieces of criteria that the schedule did not meet that led to the schedule not being approved.

“I just feel like there were individual interests from board members that were not necessarily supported by any of the documentation, outreach, feedback from students, staff, [or]administrators. None of the people we reached out to were in line with their concerns,” Campbell said.

Next, according to Meyer, a student academic calendar was released so the community could see when the school year may start and when some possible breaks would be. This calendar would cut down three days from the one that would have gone with the proposed bell schedule to include an end date on June 4. With this changed end date, the original proposed schedule would not have met instructional minutes.

According to Campbell, the teachers’ association felt blindsided by the board because when they released the calendar, Campbell felt as though they had not considered the association when making the decision. According to Campbell, the district has never produced a calendar where the teacher work days were not all listed on the same calendar as the student school days.

“We’re very concerned that they’re trying to set a precedent and trying to change the contracts and decades of past practice,” Campbell said.

According to Campbell, the association then started moving around days in the calendar and proposing different ideas to work with the board’s interests.

“We were totally under the impression that we were still negotiating and having a good friendly dialogue. When they passed the new calendar it put everything else on hold. If they’re not going to respect the contract or the association’s role, then who else are they not going to respect?” Campbell said.

After the calendar was released, and the association saw that their schedule would not meet the instructional minutes in alignment with it, and Meyer said “that’s exactly where the disagreement lies.” 

According to Meyer, the next step towards making a new bell schedule was going back to the drawing board and discussing all kinds of possibilities. According to Campbell, the negotiations teams have approved a possible bell schedule, but it still needs to be vetted by the board. The board has shared a calendar with the community that includes a June 4 senior graduation date and June 9 end date for students in grades nine to eleventh. 

The teams got specific feedback regarding the calendar and that it should include a full week off during Thanksgiving. The percent of students absent during Thanksgiving week is around ten percent, and that number continues to grow every year. 

Another thing the teams became interested in was having a break in October at the end of the first quarter, because between Labor Day and Veteran’s Day there is a 45 day stretch of school with only regular two day weekends to break it up, not leaving students or families time to leave the area or enjoy a break. These things have been implemented into a new calendar shared with the community.

The board was willing to go back to the drawing table. Overall, the district’s focus is on benefiting students, and the new bell schedule is going to be created around what’s best for students.

“This particular team has been putting students first, and it’s really refreshing and appreciated,” Meyer said.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that the new schedule includes block days Tuesday through Thursday. This is incorrect, there will be block days Tuesday through Friday. 

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Campbell was the president of the teachers association. The correct name is the District Teachers Association.

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