SRVUSD rolls out 10 proposals for more student, staff, parent flexibility

Ideas include multiple start/end times, changing class requirements, limiting online grade-checking

The San Ramon Valley school board is considering a variety of changes to implement in coming years that would offer more flexible options for students, families, faculty and staff.

The 10 proposals under consideration were rolled out in a special workshop Friday morning in Danville and will be the subject of a series of superintendent-parent talks to take place in September and October.

"Hopefully we'll be able to get better," Superintendent Rick Schmitt said at the workshop. "With all due respect to our history and our past, because we've done some incredible things as a community and a staff ... But it's fun to challenge the present and envision the future."

The proposals staff presented at Friday's workshop are as follows:

Proposal 1 -- Middle schools would go from one start and end times to two start and end times. High schools would go from two start and end times to three start and end times.

This proposal, said deputy superintendent of educational services Toni Taylor, would allow students and staff to decide when they would want to start and end their school days, fitting a variety of different family and student lifestyles and potentially easing traffic congestion.

Proposal 2 -- Offering independent study physical education credits for students participating in intensive, outside-of-school, individual sports.

The rationale behind this proposal is to allow students who are already training and taking part in intense individual sports outside of school to receive PE credit for this. Students would need to meet the 400 minutes per 10 instruction days that is required for PE classes, and would be required to be supervised by a certified, fully insured private coach -- not a parent or guardian.

Proposal 3 -- Gradually limit access to the online grade portal.

This proposal is focused on limiting parents' abilities to constantly receive notifications and check up on their children's grades.

Currently, middle and high school parents have unlimited access to their children's grades through both School Loop and Infinite Campus portals, including daily emails detailing students' grades and assignments.

Taylor called the constant checking of students' grades "unhealthy" and stressful to both parents and students, referencing a recent New York Times article titled "The Downside of Checking Kids' Grades Constantly."

The proposal at this moment, Taylor said, would entail a gradual limiting of parental access to the Parent Portal: first, implementing better parent education about the possibility of opting out of the daily email feature, then eliminating the emails detailing students' grades and finally limiting access to the Parent Portal.

Board member Denise Jennison jumped in to suggest that another way of handling unhealthy parental grade checking was to have teachers post grades less frequently. And board member Rachel Hurd added that while it was "generally accepted" in district focus groups that taking away grade access would be good, parents felt there is a value to posting assignments online.

Proposal 4 -- Reduce middle schools classes, with one or more middle schools piloting a schedule where teachers teach five periods and students take six.

Right now, Taylor said, middle school teachers teach on average 30 students more than high school teachers. With this proposal, middle and high school teachers would share a more equitable teaching load. Additionally, she said, this would give students fewer subjects requiring homework and study, and offer students and teachers more instructional time.

She added that she knew that this proposal would take a few years to implement, and would require negotiations with the teachers union.

Proposal 5 -- Allow two years of foreign language credit for students in seventh and eighth grades.

This proposal would align the middle school foreign language model to the high school model, in which one year of a language class is equal to one credit.

The thought behind this change would be to "entice more middle school students to take a foreign language," Taylor said, and to allow for more foreign language advanced later on at the high school level.

Proposal 6 -- Reframe on-campus high school classes to five or six.

Right now, while students are required to take six classes at a time, over 40% of district students are taking seven, an option that is open to them but not funded by the district.

With this adaptation, students would not be able to take over six classes at once, with the intent to reduce the workload and stress for students along with reducing class size.

Jennison voiced the concern that some parents and families might feel that by revoking the ability to take seven classes, the district is taking away opportunities for their children, especially in terms of college admissions.

Schmitt agreed, and said that parent communication would be a key part of his upcoming workshops.

"More classes don't increase your chances," he said. "They actually may limit your chances, the way the admissions process works."

Proposal 7 -- Offer credit to high school students who take courses online or off-campus.

Currently, the 1,400 district high school students taking summer coursework at accredited institutions don't receive credit, Taylor said. A proposal such as this could reduce class size, reduce the workload and offer flexible learning environments for students.

There would be some limit to the number of off-campus classes students could take for credit, she added later.

Hurd raised the concern that this option could potentially be seen as a "privatization" move, and unfair to students from low-income households who might not be able to afford these programs. To which Schmitt replied that many of the programs offered are free or low-cost.

Proposal 8 -- Expand the number of approved heritage school partners, for languages not currently taught at San Ramon Valley schools.

Right now, French, Japanese, Spanish and Mandarin are offered at district high schools, with Telegu and Mandarin offered at partner heritage school sites.

This proposal would expand the number of heritage school partners for languages not currently taught within the district.

Proposal 9 -- Expand opportunities for students to receive credit for internships.

Internships, Taylor said, can open up opportunities that schools can't provide, exposing students to potential careers.

Providing credit for internships and including them in students' class schedules, she added, would allow them to explore their interests and build college and work resumes.

Proposal 10 -- Reduce high school requirements.

Finally, staff proposes to reduce high school credit requirements. Currently, SRVUSD requires students to graduate high school with 240 credits; other comparable districts are all lower, Taylor pointed out, with Pleasanton Unified requiring 230 credits and Palo Alto only 220.

According to staff, this could allow students to pursue outside interests, reduce student stress, reduce class size and allow students behind in credits to make them up during the school year rather than during the summer.

In terms of a timeline, these 10 proposals will continue being explored and discussed by all constituents for the next few months, and in November, an online survey for all stakeholders is set to be released in order to gather more feedback. In January, implementation plans and communications will start to be crafted and next spring, schedules will be finalized.

Updates will be provided at board meeting from October through January.


7 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Danville
on Sep 9, 2017 at 7:51 am

With this District most decisions are motivated by money. In regard to on-line and cultural schools, are these being allowed to reduce need to hire and compensate more District teachers, provide them benefits and then give them a pension?
May not be as altruistic as it appears...

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Posted by Scott Hale
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 9, 2017 at 8:59 am

Scott Hale is a registered user.

Good question, will you show up for the talks and ask??

2 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 9, 2017 at 10:54 am

While the idea of proposal 1 might seem like a nice idea, it would be extremely difficult at a smaller middle school like the one I teach at. The only feasible explanation given, in my opinion, is the effect on traffic. The challenge of scheduling should definitely be taken into account when considering this option.

Proposal 4 would also be very challenging for middle schools when it comes to the core class model. Core teachers typically have 2 or 3 core sections during the day (depending on whether the class is a 2 period or 3 period block.) If the number of classes was reduced to an odd number, it would probably result in the need to eliminate the core model from the middle schools.

12 people like this
Posted by DarbyS
a resident of Danville
on Sep 10, 2017 at 9:06 am

As a teacher, I hope they consider proposal three. It is extremely irritating to receive an email from a parent the second you post a grade. The grading website is often watched like a stock market. Helicopter parents in this district are really impacting their kids mental well being, and it is truly sad.

18 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Danville
on Sep 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm

I believe we should be extremely careful and thoughtful about Proposal 3 (reducing/eliminating parent access to School Loop). School Loop is about more than grades (and helicopter parenting). It provides some degree (depending on how committed teachers are in posting) of real-time data on assignments and completion, that can be an invaluable tool for parents to support their child’s learning and growth (not grades).

Parents understand that students in middle and high school are supposed to be developing their work- and time-management skills, and our schools are supposed to challenge them. But students with executive function deficits (often students with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, etc.) can have more than the usual difficulty writing down assignments, remembering them, remembering to turn in work, etc. For these students, the work-management expectations of the typical classroom and schedule can be nearly impossible to meet without additional support. And let’s be honest, many teachers do not have the time or ability to provide that extra support. How helpful is it to a student to learn that (s)he has forgotten an assignment four weeks after it was due, long after it is too late to make it up, or to be relevant to additional work?

The District (I would expect) understands the value of timely metrics in driving improvement. Would the District want to be limited in its access to its data (graduation rates, CASSPP scores, API, etc.), and find out only after it’s too late to do anything about it?

10 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Danville
on Sep 10, 2017 at 5:27 pm

I wonder about proposal 4, reducing middle school classes to six periods. I'm guessing that what we're really talking about is offering one less elective period for middle school students. Most 6th grade students currently have a three-period core (English, reading, history), math, science, PE and an elective (wheel). That’s seven periods. So what’s getting dropped? My guess is the elective. But most students with learning disabilities are already required to miss out on the elective to obtain a period of resource support. So what would get dropped for them? And band (for students wishing to play an instrument) is also an elective.

In 7th and 8th grades, reading is generally collapsed into English for a two-period core (perhaps the model the District is looking at?), and students pick up an “extra” elective (ie, two). But again, for students needing resource support, they didn’t have a first elective to start with. Imagine a student (and I know many) with a learning disability who also chooses to play an instrument: English, History, Math, Science, PE, Resource, Band. That’s seven periods. So what gets dropped? And that doesn’t include the foreign language that the District would like to encourage middle school students to take (Proposal 5). Or any other electives.

Electives have enormous value for many (if not most) students. Students can explore non-core classes that excite them, identify things they’re good at, provide them a place to apply what they’re learning in core classes, and provide an alternative to the grind of what may be very difficult (especially for kids with disabilities). Speech/debate, robotics, art, programming – these have real value to real students, and are sometimes what keep them motivated, and attending.

Eliminating an elective period would disproportionately impact students with learning disabilities who require resource support, and would narrow their access to electives. This needs to be thought out extremely carefully.

10 people like this
Posted by CB
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 11, 2017 at 7:51 am

So many great ideas here. Happy to see some movement on the Infependent PE.

Caution on #3 and echo Todd. Kids and parents both benefit from seeing assignments posted online so they can learn time management.

Infrequent posting of grades is frustrating to kids. They are often taking exams when quizzes have not yet been graded, missing important feedback necessary to be successful. Giving teachers a pass on timely grading because they don't want to hear from parents is not the solution.

8 people like this
Posted by Scott Hale
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 11, 2017 at 10:24 am

Scott Hale is a registered user.

All for #2. My son is on a swim team that has practice M-F. Be nice to get credit for that in some way.

All against #3. In elementary school we as parents see no grades online and very little comes homes graded in any manner. We are essentially in the dark until conferences, report cards (3x a year only!) and/or pester the teacher for updates. Heck, they don't even use grades in elementary school, which I'm still trying to get used to.
I think parents should have full access and teachers should be posting grades online in a timely manner; I realize that is pointed at middle school and HS. As a parent I just want to know and not be surprised. Those parents who are obsessive or tend to be helicopter parents will STILL find a way to do that with or wo online access; they will harass the teacher much much more. Sorry #3 is a no go zone for me.....

4 people like this
Posted by mike
a resident of Danville
on Sep 14, 2017 at 3:04 pm

I am firmly against limiting access to the portal (proposal 3). At least once a month, we find a major error where our son got an A on a test but the teacher logged it in at less than 75%. Without daily access to the portal, we wouldn't know about these errors until it was likely too late or too difficult to go back and figure out where the problem occurred.

1 person likes this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Alamo
on Sep 16, 2017 at 9:01 am

#3: Assignments can still be accessed, but the grades should only be posted at mid term and at the end of the quarter. If any parent had to operate/work in an environment where their boss checked their productivity like the parents check student grades, they'd explode. A student left a cell phone in my room last year after a test and the student forgot to turn in that daily assignment, I put the zero in to remind the student to turn it in the next day and the PARENT immediately texted the student "Why do you have a 0????" So, once the student returned to get their phone, they already had a message from the parent about their mistake. Parents use school loop like teenagers use snap chat. Parents are mad at the school for "stress levels' and the schools are spending time talking about student's mental health instead of preparing them for the next chapter of their lives (like they are supposed to be)...when the REAL culprit of stress is not coming from the school but from parents who are so caught up in micromanaging their kids existence that it makes great sense for the district to remove the minute by minute, play by play of a child's grades. Now, with that being said, there needs to be better outreach by TEACHERS to parents if a child is in danger of failing (a C is NOT failing) if this grade component is scaled back.

2 people like this
Posted by Scott Hale
a resident of San Ramon
on Sep 17, 2017 at 7:32 am

Scott Hale is a registered user.

@teacher: I don't buy it. Perhaps a 'few' parents go nutso when they see grades, but nothing near majority. And even if (a big If) the district were to adopt #3 those same parents would find another way.

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with elementary school grade system? If you were, you would understand. We see nothing. Online, brought home, nearly zero. Even grades (which aren't grades) only come home 3 times a year.

Sorry, once they hit middle school I want to know test scores, grade etc so there is no surprise and I always know where my 'child' is status wise.
Those teachers who can't manage parents certainly have a tough job, but they should remember who exactly pays for the education and some some ability to understand.

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