Overview: (I) Bellevue Deputy Superintendent Eva Collins gave the welcome and overview. (II) Committee members reported findings from meetings with high school stakeholders. (III) District groups planned next steps in internal and external outreach.
I. Welcome and Introductions
Bellevue Deputy Superintendent Eva Collins welcomed committee members and gave an overview of the meeting. Facilitator Dick Withycombe asked them to review the minutes of the February 11 meeting, which they approved as submitted. Eva will email the minutes of the January 28 meeting.
II. School-Based Outreach Programs
Dick asked committee members to describe the stakeholder outreach activities they had conducted and the kinds of comments they received. Joint Bellevue/Mercer Island Music Teacher Meeting On March 2, Scott Backus, Gavin Cree, and Frances Osman met with music teachers at the WMTA Eastshore meeting. Scott passed out copies of the focus group protocol they used, an adaptation of the one the committee helped to develop for KingCo, and a summary of the input received, which was primarily from Mercer Island music teachers. Because there was less Bellevue input, Scott will meet with Bellevue teachers on April 6.
Mercer Island music teachers accept that students need more sleep. Their concern is that a later high school start time would make it difficult to maintain their current delivery model, which involves “highly qualified, singleinstrument” teachers moving among elementary schools to provide beforeschool
instruction to fifthgraders. They already face the challenge of adding a new elementary school. They foresee a lot of pushback if they have to teach all of the instruments together, as other schools do; but they said they could make it work if they had to. However, if the district decides to change the start time, they hope that decision will be made early so they can be involved in figuring out how it would work. Their concern is unintended consequences. Mercer Island Transportation Director Todd Kelsay added that there may also be a facility issue because schools may not have appropriate spaces available; and Scott said the district may need to buy additional instruments. Mercer Island’s band and orchestra programs are large. At the high school, one in five students is involved, in elementary school it’s one in four; so the music constituency is “huge and passionate.”
Mercer Island School District
Todd reported on outreach activities undertaken in Mercer Island, which included meetings with the high school principal and associate principal, with a diverse group of approximately 25 students, and with some teachers. A teacher focus group is scheduled.
Mercer Island committee members feel the completed meetings provided a good idea of the kinds of concerns people will have. In all groups, they heard logistical concerns that would be a challenge to mitigate. Administrators don’t want to see an increase in the numbers of students who miss a portion of
seventh period for practices or competitions. Teachers are concerned about commuting, because many can’t afford to live on the island.
Students feel that even a 15minute delay would impact their ability do other things they value between school and bed. Many are fully booked after seventh period, sometimes in activities that involve kids from other districts. Students don’t see an extra 15 or 30 minutes as worth the risk to so many other things. A large number of students do both band and sports, which is just barely possible with the current schedule and might be impossible with a later start.
Some of the solutions suggested in these meetings wouldn’t be acceptable to the district, including offering zerohour classes that offset the later start and scheduling only electives during seventh period. People responded more positively to the idea of replacing the Wednesday early dismissal with a late
Todd has briefed both the Mercer Island board and superintendent. The latter conversation included the need to provide good information about potential implications, as well as potential benefits, in community outreach efforts and the need to avoid changes that would push more students to leave school early.
Bellevue School District
Eva and District Director of Athletics and Activities Jeff Lowell briefed the committee on their outreach activities. These included multiple focus groups Eva said they want to spend additional time with teachers, but initial input raised the issues of longer commute times (especially for newer teachers who
can’t afford to live in Bellevue) and more students leaving seventh period early.
Jeff said the teachers he talked to were more open to the idea once they began to see possible solutions (e.g., coming in earlier, leaving after seventh period), but that the starttime question wasn’t yet “on their radar.”
Eva said kids already feel they don’t have enough time; they would like to get more sleep, but if it means not doing something else, they will stay up later. The overall feeling was reluctance to endorse a change beyond 15 minutes or so. Students said they don’t have any unused time — and won’t unless teachers gave them less homework. They said more sleep would be good, but just changing the start time is not the answer: the problem is expectations placed on them by teachers, parents, and activities. Eva said students were quite thoughtful about this, and also that some teachers pushed back, saying students need to learn to make choices or to spend less time on social media.
Jeff reported two suggestions received: offering more zerohour classes if there’s a later start; and implementing an eightperiod schedule and letting students choose seven classes.
As a group, principals were open to the idea of a later start; but if the change is made, they want an opportunity to reconsider the structure of the day (e.g., moving tutorial from the end of the day). They didn’t favor adding zerohour classes, as some students already take a zero period class. They felt it may be a good thing to let students make choices: “to have a saner life, they may need to choose, as we all have to at times.”
Jeff met with the athletic directors; and Eva briefed the education association and the school board. They haven’t yet met with the transportation department.
Eva prepared an information sheet summarizing the research on adolescent sleep patterns, effects of chronic sleep loss, potential benefits of later start times for students, and potential challenges of adopting later start times. On the reverse side, she added information about current Bellevue start times and transportation and the committee process and timeline, as well as links to research studies. She offered to share this handout with Mercer Island.
III. District Group Planning
The committee discussed the outreach activities and findings in the two school districts, concluding that the district groups would spend today’s planning time differently. This was in part a matter of their respective positions with respect to community engagement activities.
Mercer Island decided to implement interim steps before planning community outreach activities. They will meet with the Parent Advisory Council as a focus group before the next committee meeting. With those findings and the advice of this committee, they will then meet with their superintendent about whether and how to approach the community on the starttime issue.
The Bellevue superintendent and board members expect the committee to gather community input, so those committee members will move ahead with external outreach.
The Mercer Island group discussed the best way to involve the Parent Advisory Council and also developed a list of the most significant issues in their district.
- Seventhperiod early departure
- Currently, it’s common for a small number of students to leave seventh period early for afterschool
activities. Internal stakeholders and students are concerned that a later start time will increase that number, perhaps significantly.
- Although all students could potentially be impacted, the most likely to leave early are band members and players on C teams, with distant activities, and in playoffs.
- The zerohour option has been discussed, but generally ruled out as counterproductive.
- Some students suggested they might attempt to take “easier” classes during seventh period to minimize the impact.
- Teachers may not want to teach seventh period because makeup requirements may increase their workloads and absences may negatively impact student performance and thus their evaluations.
- Currently, it’s common for a small number of students to leave seventh period early for afterschool
- Staff travel to and from work
- If staff members living off the island experience longer commute times, it could affect the district’s ability to recruit and retain staff.
- Music program
- Beforeschool, fifthgrade band students may lose significant practice time, compared to current schedules.
- The music program may not be able to maintain the current approach (singleinstrument instruction, rather than instruction for all instruments at once).
- The schedule that moves music teachers from building to building throughout the day works well now; the impact of a MIHS belltime change is unknown.
- The very large, highly regarded music program is valued by the community as core education.
- Other student concerns
- Students frequently commented to the effect that: “We already have a good start time, especially compared to others.”
- Fifteen minutes “is not worth it”; 30 minutes may be too disruptive to other activities and responsibilities.
- Many students are fully booked until bedtime as it is and already get to key activities later than students from other high schools.
- They don’t want to have to choose between activities; they want to be able to do it all.
- Getting into toptier colleges requires giving up sleep to achieve in school and in activities.
- What might be required is a major philosophical change away from giving so much homework.
The Bellevue group planned two community forums, with the openhouse format the district has used successfully to provide information about other issues. The purpose will be to educate, not to survey opinion. Parents of middle school and high school students will be invited to two regional forums: April 15 at Interlake High School and April 16 at Newport High School. Eva invited Mercer Island committee members to participate; committee members will arrive at 6:00 p.m.