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School board re-evaluates late start times

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Interim Superintendent Michael Gottlieb says that late-in policies enacted this academic year are believed to have resulted in a lot of absences and tardies. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

District posts online survey about late-ins, early release

The Roswell public school district is asking for parents’ opinions as it considers reversing course on late start times at secondary schools.

“Let’s be honest. The community is very upset with this middle school, high school late-in,” said Interim Superintendent Michael Gottlieb. “We are not educating the kids appropriately because we have a lot of tardies and a lot of absences.”

Gottlieb made the remarks at the Tuesday night meeting of the Board of Education of the Roswell Independent School District.

He explained that the school district posted a survey Tuesday morning on its website, risd.k12.nm.us, to solicit feedback from parents and other community members about late start times, which are about 9:30 a.m. on Wednesdays at secondary schools. (Public charter school Sidney Gutierrez Middle School is not affected, as it is governed and operated independently.)

The survey also asks for comments about early release times of 1:45 p.m. at elementary schools on Wednesdays.

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“We need to let them vent to tell us how they feel,” he said. “And then we move forward from there.”

The survey will be conducted for a minimum of three weeks, Gottlieb said, and the district will work on posting a Spanish-language version.

He said that he thinks the late starts cause difficulties for bus companies, school staff, teachers, parents and students.

“We are losing kids not coming to school,” he said.

Originally the school district and the Boys & Girls Club arranged to have school buses drop off middle school kids who enrolled in the club at the site on Garden Avenue in the mornings and then picked students back up to drop off at their schools, said Unit Director Natasha Welt. Twenty-five students signed up at the start of the school year, but only seven were enrolled by December, Welt said. The Boys & Girls Club discontinued the program at that point, she said.

A former school board member and Roswell teacher, who said she was speaking to board members on behalf of parents, urged a change.

“They (parents) are under a lot of hardships, having to leave work, having to be late to work, having to clock out of work in order for their kids to come to school,” she said. “And so rescinding that for them would be a godsend for them.”

She urged the board to act “immediately” to reverse the policy, and said that a quick change should be possible since the late starts had been “abruptly dropped in (parents’) laps two weeks before school started.”

Teachers and administrators at secondary schools had begun discussing the late-in policy with parents in spring 2019, according to previous statements by district officials. The schedule change was officially announced at a meeting in late July and implemented Aug. 14.

The school district posted a video to social media on Aug. 19 with teachers and administrators talking about how the extra time would improve student education by enabling educators to meet regularly to collaborate on educational plans, share ideas and learn about new instructional technologies and curricula.

But Gottlieb said that a recent survey of administrators about both late-in and early release found that the majority would prefer having consistent start and end times. He acknowledged that future changes could cause an issue for some teachers, whose contracts call for having the extra 90 minutes for class preparation and professional development.

Questions to the district about that survey were not immediately answered by press time.

Gottlieb said at the board meeting that one idea which could be implemented to ensure time for professional development would be starting schools at the same time every day of the week, but also having early release for all district schools at 1:45 p.m. every Wednesday.

Some board members said an early release on Wednesdays for secondary schools could hamper students’ opportunities to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities. They wanted to ensure that the district thinks and prepares for alternatives should such a change occur.

But Gottlieb said that he thinks the priorities should be “education first” and “then professional development.”

“My opinion, and I am only here for (whatever) time you want me, is that should not be the issue,” he said. “The issue should be protecting the teachers’ time in the classroom and providing some professional development. … We have to provide an ongoing, supportive, systemic approach to professional development.”

Senior writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.