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.