District to change elementary start, end times to give teachers more planning time

The change will go into effect at the start of the 2022-2023 school year

Starting next fall, all elementary schools — with the exception of Homestake Peak School — will start instruction at 7:55 a.m. and end at 2:50 p.m.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily Archive

Eagle County Schools’ Board of Education voted to change elementary start and end times across the district on March 23 in an effort to give more planning time to teachers.

Starting next fall, all elementary schools — with the exception of Homestake Peak School — will start instruction at 7:55 a.m. and end at 2:50 p.m. Because Homestake Peak is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school, it will maintain its current start and end times of 7:55 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Currently, most of the district’s schools start instructional time at 8 a.m. and end it at 3:05 p.m., according to Superintendent Philip Qualman in a report given to the board on Wednesday, March 23.

The decision was made after this school year’s schedule change inadvertently impacted planning time for the district’s elementary teachers.

“The change that we made this year, however, it extended their day to the point that it took away a significant chunk of planning time for our elementary teachers,” Qualman said. “Now that we’re three-quarters of the way through the year and asking how it’s going, it’s not going well. That change has not been universally appreciated by our elementary school staff or principals.”

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This year’s change was made both to standardize start and end times across school levels, as well as to offset a bus driver shortage, giving more predictability and space between bus routes.

Qualman, speaking at the board meeting, said that the transportation team is supportive of this most recent proposed change to elementary times as it creates an even bigger window between routes. This window helps provide flexibility in the event of traffic and weather to avoid delays, he said.

The new change also gives elementary teachers a 35-minute block at the end of the day that can count as planning time for the teachers. According to Assistant Superintendent Melisa Rewold-Thuon on Wednesday, with the current schedule, elementary teachers were getting 10 minutes here and there for planning. These short increments don’t count as planning time per the district’s collective bargaining agreement with the teacher’s union, she added.

Homestake Peak is the only school with elementary-level students that won’t change start and end times. According to Qualman, this is because middle school students require more instructional time than elementary students and the school is “comfortable with where they are now.”

In addressing how these changes could be perceived as inequitable across the district, specifically for high school and middle school teachers, Qualman said that calculating planning time is clearer in middle and high schools because students rotate between classrooms. On the flipside, elementary teachers have most classes with the same students.

“It’s more ambiguous and challenging at the elementary level because they also have to have eyes-on supervision, so you’ll get teachers engaged in helping out on recess duty or lunch duty or bus duty and lot of those things are not mirrored at middle and high school,” he said. “They’re different animals.”

Plus, this is only one way that the district is seeking to help give teachers more planning time; something the school board has heard is greatly needed through direct conversations with staff as well as through this year’s district accountability committee recommendations.

Already this year, the district and the Education Association of Eagle County got creative in fall negotiations to give teachers more planning time. The group reached an agreement in September that gave principals the latitude to redistribute the collective bargaining agreement’s mandated 75 minutes a week of professional learning community time, and give time back to teachers for planning.

While this bell change only impacts elementary schools and staff, Qualman noted that the district’s ongoing negotiations process with the association will continue to contemplate how to add more planning time for all teachers.

“We’re also focusing on planning time in the negotiations process with some more comprehensive changes that would be district wide,” he said. “This would be specific to elementary schools, but we’re considering some other adjustments in the collective bargaining agreement that speak to planning time specifically.”

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