By Tamas Mondovics
On the heels of the Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) Board’s controversial vote to end its courtesy busing, parents and students are again awaiting a decision on another transportation related issue: new bell schedule for the 2017-2018 school year.
In a letter and on the district’s website, Superintendent Jeff Eakins informed parents and guardians of the more than 200,000 elementary, middle and high school students in the nation’s eighth largest district of the proposed change, scheduled to be brought to a special called board meeting later this month.
“After you have watched the video and studied the attached proposed bell times, we look forward to your feedback once again,” Eakins said, while acknowledging that the issue prompts parents and students to have many questions and concerns.
Parents are to review the proposed changes and email their response to the district at BellSchedule@sdhc.k12.fl.us.
“After we review feedback from our families, we will create the final recommendation and bring it to our School Board for a vote on Tuesday, April 25 at 3:30 p.m.
The request for feedback of the already proposed new schedule seems to have caught many parents off guard and a bit too fast to digest, although the process has involved teachers, parents and students from nearly two dozen schools for some time.
For many the new bell schedule, which is arguably connected to the district’s changing bus service and efforts to save money, surfaced barely three weeks prior to the scheduled vote.
Eakins said that the proposal is “because we have had years of parent, student and employee concerns around the issues of late buses, loss of instructional time, the need for additional teacher planning time and the need to work within the confines of our budget.”
He added that the complaints have been channeled through the schools, parent phone calls, district emails and middle and high school student forums.
Eakins called the current schedule unrealistic and that “something had to change in order to meet the needs of our students and properly secure the instructional minute’s necessary.”
School officials said that with high schools dismissed nearly an hour earlier will allow opportunities for jobs and getting to practice and after-school activities sooner, which means the student’s can get home earlier.
Elementary students are said to gain an extra 15 minutes of art, music and PE, which school officials said improves their overall health and well-being.
Middle school and high school students will keep a seven period day, which Eakins said affords them the opportunity to take more classes, including Advanced Placement and electives such as art, music and band to reach their graduation requirements.
HCPS spokesperson Tanya Arja added that the change will provide a more efficient bus schedule, and improve instruction for students due to maintaining or adding more planning time for teachers.
Interestingly the Superintendent’s comments eventually circled back to the busses when he said, “Adjusting the bell schedule will allow a greater percentage of school bus drivers to transport three tiers of students (elementary, middle and high school). This shift translates to a cost savings of over two and a half million dollars for our school district.”
While the topic of busses, student’s safety and bell times continue to be a formidable foe to many, to Eakins and his staff it is clearly a means to save money and a promised goal to work toward a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2020.
For a complete update, information and full list of new bell times, please visit www.sdhc.k12.fl.us.