The Camden County Board of Education conducted their first meeting of the new year on Tuesday evening. Several items of importance were on the agenda; however, a couple of parents spoke in favor of reversing the school start times for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year. Currently, there are no known plans to reverse school start times from the prior school year.
Before the 2017-2018 school year, school start times for elementary schools started early while the high school start times were later. School start times were changed for this current school year to accommodate bus driver shortages, region athletic competitions, after-school student job responsibilities, and to increase more instructional time at the elementary level.
Currently, elementary schools start at 8:30 a.m. and dismiss at 3:30 p.m; middle schools start at 7:40 a.m. and dismiss at 2:40 p.m.; high school starts at 7:25 p.m. and dismiss at 2:25 p.m.
This school year, Camden County Schools implemented new bus route software which is linked to student home address information which assisted in generating bus routes. As school started back in August, bus routes and new school times contribute to missed routes, missed rides, and safety concerns.
Stephanie Bledsoe, a military mother of two children at Mary Lee Clark Elementary School, said she has seen a change in her children this school year and blamed the school start times.
“The time change for elementary students in the 2017-2018 school year has been a difficult adjustment. Currently, dismissal at the elementary school is 3:30 p.m. By the time I sit in the car-line, it is 4 o’clock. I can’t imagine the kids who have to ride the bus. This leaves an hour before it is time for dinner and baths. Then it is time for homework. On the days my kids have sports, we are rushing them to and from school, a snack, and then to practice/games,” said Bledsoe.
Beldsoe went on to express that her kindergartener is “exhausted,” and her 5th-grade daughter is “overwhelmed” with the responsibilities she must get done before bed. “They barely have time to play, as children should.”
“Extracurricular activities are nonexistent. Last year, Mary Lee Clark Elementary had yearbook club, running club, and other clubs. This year, there are no afterschool clubs,” said Beldsoe.
Bledsoe, a former two-year PTA officer at Mary Lee Clark, said she has spoken with several teachers and was told that teachers were asked to leave school after dismissal because they are done with their contracted duties at the end of the school day.
“They are told to leave, as they should because they have families at home. So, we have no afterschool activities at home. My daughter loved participating in the yearbook club and running club last year where she made new friends. She had one-on-one time with her teachers, and when she learned there would be no activities for this year, she became emotional. I would think afterschool activities create opportunities for students who do not play sports. I find it really sad that my daughter’s last year in elementary school or my son’s first year in elementary school will not be documented in a school yearbook that could have been created by the students. I am aware this is not the teachers or administrators fault,” Beldsoe expressed.
Beldose said there has also been a significant decline in PTA participation since the new school start times have been implemented and she recommended changing the school times next year to help increase student and staff morale in the school system.
Rohnda Leewright, a mother of four with children in all three grade levels also spoke about asking the Board to change back the school start times. Leewright quoted research to Board members about sleep time and adolescent productivity.
“I have watched my children this year deteriorate; they are exhausted. Students with more sleep tend to function better, test better, and are less likely to be tardy if students have a later start time. I have one child that works, and the employers in the county do not care what time school starts. She gets home late and then she is up by 6 a.m. to go to school. If you look at schools with better CCRPI’s (state report card scores), they have later start times,” said Leewright.
Leewright continued to cite the research from the American Academy of Pediatrics about elementary students versus high school students needing appropriate start times due to their growth and development stages.
She also said “[i]t is really hard as a mother to watch your children function in the day like a zombie. I have a daughter who is an athlete, and she missed about the same amount of class time that she would in the prior school year. It did not change anything for her. Please think about the effects this is having on our children.”
A related item of information on the agenda was a new registration upgrade within PowerSchool, the district’s online grade book system. According to the agenda, parents will be able to update their child’s demographic information year-round through the parent portal instead of waiting for the district to open a separate time for new registration.
Each year, parents must update their child’s information for the school district to best inform the district of new changes such as home address and emergency contacts. This year, outdated information was one issue that attributed to the bus route woes, according to school superintendent Dr. Hardin. Hardin stated that he feels this will be a solution to helping correct inaccurate information for bus transportation purposes as the feature is expected to help also filter out incorrect entries and misspellings of street addresses.
According to the agenda, the new upgrade is expected to go live sometime this month. No specific date was given on the agenda, supporting documents, or at the Board meeting. Dr. Hardin said that school principals will be discussing this feature with their faculty soon. Access to the new registration feature within the parent portal is expected to be announced on the district’s social media pages and the district website.
As for the 2018-2019 school calendar proposal, public input from the community will be asked sometime in late January. According to the Calendar Development Timeline, January 22nd will be the date of release for the proposed 2018-2019 school calendar.
Other items –
Dr. Hardin said that Camden County Schools had been granted Federal Impact Aid payments by the U.S. Department of Education for FY2017. In order for school districts to receive Impact Aid, the school district’s millage rate had to be within 95 percent of Georgia’s millage rate. The state’s millage rate was 16.115 whereas Camden County’s was at 15.50 – 96.18 percent. The Board changed the millage rate last fall at the recommendation of Dr. Hardin in order to be considered a “Hold Harmless” district for funding underneath the new federal education law is known as the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Dr. Hardin said he would be traveling back to Washington D.C. as Congress is looking to make Federal Impact Aid become much like school vouchers for connected military students. The vouchers would be given to military families, and the money could be used to pay for the schooling of choice. Hardin feels this would detrimental to the funding the school receives and looks to work with similar school districts to help continue receiving federal impact aid, which is roughly a yearly $3 – 4 million dollar allocation from Washington.
Read more here about military impact aid vouchers.
To see the entire Board meeting, view the video below: