By Tamas Mondovics
Last month, Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins informed district families, staff and community members with his final recommendation to wait one year before making district wide changes.
Eakin’s note reached the community just days ahead of a Special Called Board Meeting on Tuesday, April 25, during which the school board approved with a 6 to 1 vote for the new 2018-2019 bell time schedule. The 2017-2018 bell time schedule will not change.
Eakins emphasized that the proposed bell time changes are necessary because the district’s current arrival and dismissal times do not allow enough time for bus drivers to get students to and from school on time and stated that the district must correct this in order to secure the appropriate number of instructional minutes for students.
Less than a month earlier, 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 bell time change asking all to review it and send in their input so a final recommendation can be brought to the School Board for a vote.
“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.
The request for a feedback of the already proposed new schedule seems to have caught many parents off guard, a great number of whom are still dealing with the whiplash of the School Board’s controversial vote to end its courtesy busing.
School officials said that the proposed bell time changes are based on feedback from teachers, parents and students involving nearly two dozen schools over a considerable time.
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 minutes necessary.”
Counting the potential benefits school officials noted 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 students 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.
As expected, Eakins comments eventually circled back to the buses 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 the school district, officials said.
While the topic of buses, students’ 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.
At the end, Eakins recommended to wait one year before making any change to the bell schedule, stating that the additional time will allow the school district and families to make any necessary adjustments and clarify questions or concerns.
The 2018-2019 recommended bell times are posted online at sdhc.k12.fl.us/newsdesk.