Parents protest plan to bring back staggered reading
District will cut 45 minutes a day for grades 1-3
Parents upset with a change in schedules at elementary schools packed the Pleasanton school district's boardroom Tuesday night, telling staff members that the change was done too quickly and not given enough thought.
The district announced earlier this month that it would bring back staggered reading for first-, second- and third-graders, with half starting 45 minutes early and half staying 45 minutes late. While teachers' days would be the same length, those students would receive 45 minutes less instructional time four out of five days a week. All students will continue to start later on Wednesdays, which have been set aside for teacher collaboration and staff development.
Staggered start times were the norm in Pleasanton 16 years ago when class sizes were about 30-1, with time on either side of the day set aside to give students a block of time at 15-1 for concentrated reading instruction.
Cindy Galbo, assistant superintendent of educational services, said the cut in class time would still keep the district 115 minutes above state requirements. The return of staggered reading would give students smaller class sizes for that block of time, as class sizes go back to where they were in the mid 1990s.
"We went up to 25-1 for two years and then we went up to 30-1 for this (coming) fall," Galbo told the crowd. "Teachers came to us and our principals and said, 'This isn't going to work.'"
She also explained that the late notice was because of the last-minute restoration of PE teachers. Without that, Galbo said, there wouldn't have been enough instructional hours to implement staggered reading.
Parents, however, said they should have been involved in the decision process, and that the district arbitrarily decided to resume an old program.
"I didn't hear, 'We explored these different options and they didn't work,'" said one woman. "To a lot of us, it seems like you didn't even try."
Child care providers who'd have to step in to fill the gaps in the morning and afternoon also said at the meeting that they weren't told about the change in schedules.
"I was notified by my family, not by the school district," said one. "This is going to be an absolute nightmare."
She and the other child care provider who spoke said that scheduling would be next to impossible, since they generally have a limited number of drivers and a short amount of time to shuttle children to and from their facilities.
Galbo said she'd spoken to Kids Club, a before- and after-school program run by the district to see if its capacity could be increased, and that a district liaison was to have spoken to other child care organizations.
One parent said even with child care available, it's impossible to arrange for it.
"Until you know where your child's slot is, you can't plan for daycare," she said. She also worried that kids who attend early sessions would spend a long time in cars waiting for their siblings who stay late.
"Our primary role is not providing child care," Galbo said. However, she added that, "Back in the day, all sorts of things happened, like parents worked together doing runs."
Galbo also said that the district would take sibling schedules into consideration when deciding whether a child should attend early or late instruction.
She said she understood that parents would be upset getting late notification and having to make some arrangements for child care so late in the game.
"I completely hear the frustrations that you have," Galbo said. "We are doing this to provide the best quality education for your children."
Some teachers who attended the meeting said they'd worked with staggered reading before and that it would work now.
"This scenario ... is the most viable given the parameters we have," said Linda Stanford, a first-grade teacher at Mohr Elementary.
And Galbo promised the district would consider adding enrichment programs with "worthwhile activities that are school site based." The district may also consider a parent-run homework club in one of the classrooms that's empty at the different schools as a result of the larger class sizes.
However, other parents said the students who attend early sessions wouldn't get a full 45 minutes of instruction, since they have to get into class and get settled before teaching could begin. Parents also said those who attend the later sessions would be too worn out to accomplish anything significant.
They also questioned the time it would take to put the infrastructure in place. The district plans to have all students come early for the first few weeks of the school year to be assessed on their reading skills, and that assignments to early and late starts would come after that.
Parents pushed to send the district back to the drawing board to consider other possibilities before bringing back staggered reading. That, Galbo said, wasn't going to happen, and that the program will go into effect this fall.
One former teacher urged parents to be patient and do their best to cooperate.
"As a retired teacher after 35 years, I've taught staggered reading. It works. It really does," he said.