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Parkway board considers new starting/ending times, longer elementary day and full-day kindergarten

The Parkway Board of Education is considering several key changes for next fall as part of the “Project Parkway” 2011-2016 strategic planning effort. The preliminary recommendations are the first of a series of proposals intended to support Parkway’s new mission, vision and long-range plan. Items currently being considered are outlined below, along with supporting data from task forces that worked this fall under the direction of the school board.

 New School Starting and Ending Times:

  • Currently, Parkway middle schools begin at approximately 7:25 a.m., followed by high schools at 8 a.m. and most elementary schools between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.
  • Parents and teachers have consistently expressed concern that a 7:25 a.m. start time is too early, particularly for middle school-aged students;
  • Based on multiple studies and an analysis of sleep patterns in children and adolescents, the task force concluded that a later start time would be beneficial for middle school students in terms of their overall health and opportunity to be successful in school;
  • The proposed solution – when combined with lengthening the elementary day by 20 minutes – would accomplish the following:
    • Enable middle schools to start an hour later without significantly changing most other school starting times. Aside from middle schools, only five schools’ start times will change by more than 10 minutes.
    • Enable all schools to have equal instructional days at 6 hours, 55 minutes.
    • Allow for a more efficient transportation system requiring fewer buses to transport students to school. This would reduce operational transportation costs from between $200,000 to $400,000 per year.
  • Go to www.parkwayschools.net/news/busTiers.cfm to see the proposed new starting and ending times for all Parkway schools.

Lengthening the elementary school day by 20 minutes:

  • Parkway’s elementary school day is currently 6 hours, 35 minutes long which is 20 minutes shorter than Parkway’s middle and high schools and is the second shortest in St. Louis County;
  • Elementary teachers expressed concern over their ability to effectively teach the curriculum in the current format. An additional 20 minutes of instructional time per day equals roughly 10 days of instruction over the course of the school year;
  • Establishing a standard 6 hour and 55 minute school day would create a more equitable delivery of classroom instruction K-12, and allow for a more efficient busing schedule. See details above.

Full-day kindergarten for all students (tuition-free):

  • Parkway currently provides full-day kindergarten as an optional activity for parents with an annual tuition fee of $3,520;
  • The amount of research pointing to the positive outcomes of full-day kindergarten is substantial;
  • Benchmark data from local, national and international sources indicate a clear trend supporting full-day kindergarten for overall student success;
  • Since 1979, the percentage of U.S. kindergartners enrolled in full-day programs has risen from 25 percent to more than 70 percent;
  • The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education recommends full-day kindergarten. All but a handful of Missouri’s 523 public school districts now offer it;
  • In a survey of Parkway parents, 80 percent of respondents expressed support for a full-day program and elementary principals unanimously endorse it;
  • Kindergarten teachers expressed concern over their ability to effectively teach the curriculum to students in the half-day program compared with students enrolled in the full-day program;
  • The kindergarten study group includes early childhood educators, teachers, parents, counselors, special educators, literacy coaches, curriculum coordinators and administrators. Their work has centered on studying best practices in a successful full-day kindergarten program that combines academically high standards while also honoring the individual development of each child.
  • The annual cost to offer full-day kindergarten is approximately $2.65 million. Funding is available within the current budget through a re-prioritization process that will not cause any reductions in services to students.

“These proposed changes represent a lot of hard work by hundreds of Parkway community members who volunteered to help through Project Parkway,” said Superintendent Don Senti. “They still have a lot of work to do to develop our strategic plan, but these recommendations are a great first start because they make sense for kids.”

Board President Major expressed thanks to the Project Parkway volunteers for developing proposals that can be accomplished within the current budget. “Too often, plans are developed without consideration for the costs to implement them,” said Major. “I am pleased that our team has found ways to implement these recommendations without adding to the bottom line.”

The school board will decide whether to implement full-day kindergarten at its January 12 meeting. The decision regarding the length of the elementary school day and start/end times will be made at the February 9 meeting. Both meetings are open to the public and begin at 7:30 p.m. at Parkway Central Middle School, located at 471 N. Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield 63017.

For more information including copies of all Project Parkway task force reports and recommendations, go to www.parkwayschools.net and click on “Project Parkway.”