Officials at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District have reinstated a popular scheduling system for kindergarten students that aims to foster smaller class sizes and more personalized learning experiences for young students.
Superintendent John Malloy announced on last week that the district would seek to maintain the "status quo" for Slip schedules in the upcoming academic year. The move marks a shift from district officials' previous decision, agreed to by the San Ramon Valley Education Association (SRVEA) that would see the scheduling option eliminated for all kindergarteners starting in the next academic year.
"Though we still need to address challenges related to the kindergarten and first grade Slip schedules in the very near future, our actual registration data tells us that it is possible for us to keep the status quo for next year, which would mean that school sites offering Slip now could continue with the program as long as there is space in the school, and those that do not offer it this year would not offer Slip next year," Malloy said in the May 6 announcement.
Malloy added that discussions with SRVEA on the change of course "have been positive," and that the community would be updated as soon as possible upon finalizing a new memorandum of understanding with the teachers' union.
Earlier in the year, the district had negotiated an MOU with SRVEA that included ending the implementation of Slip schedules for kindergarten students, and to review the option for first-graders, starting in the 2022-23 academic year.
"The reason we came to this agreement earlier in the year for the kindergarten Slip schedule is because we were projecting accommodation challenges in our kindergarten and transitional kindergarten programs for the 2022-2023 school year," Malloy wrote in the announcement.
The decision was discussed at the district's most recent school board meeting on May 3, which was met with a number of passionate public comments opposing the move.
"This will directly harm our future kindergarteners' abilities to read, write and practice phonics in small groups," said Laura Cox, one of the organizers of a petition to the district to allow for the continuation of the scheduling option, at the May 3 meeting.
"It is undisputed that children learn best in small groups ... After two years of a pandemic and its damaging effects on our children, SRV should not be making a broad decision to eliminate small group instruction for kindergarten programs. This petition is for the kindergarten Slip schedule to remain a site decision. Sycamore (Valley Elementary) relies on a kindergarten Slip schedule for small class sizes."
Slip schedules, such as those implemented at Sycamore, allow for one group of students to attend an earlier session and another to attend a later session, with each session offering smaller group sizes than what would be the case if an entire kindergarten class was in session for the whole day.
"Sycamore's teacher to student ratio is approximately 13 to one," Cox said. "Equity is not served by taking away small class sizes. Sycamore has utilized a slip schedule for kindergartners for the last 11 years. Why the change now?"
Cox pointed to district and Sycamore Valley Elementary School officials' nod toward the district's equity component of the district's currently implemented strategic directions as the justification for the decision, and contended with this position.
"Equity is not a justification for taking away our future kindergartners small class sizes," Cox said.
Brittney Page, another organizer of the petition against the district's prior decision, also pushed back on the decision being based in a meaningful sense of the concept of equity in a public comment on May 3.
"Equity means an equal playing field of learning for all kids, giving them the equal opportunity of academic success," Page said.
"Slip schedule provides this equity by giving individual learners more time and attention from their teacher as required," she added. "Taking away Slip schedule inhibits this equity of some kids in this circumstance. Whether or not San Ramon Valley Unified schools are able to or have used slip schedules should have no bearing on Sycamore Valley's ability to use the Slip schedule to limit class sizes."
In addition to substantial and passionate public comments on the topic at the May 3 meeting, the petition led by Cox garnered nearly 300 signatures from supporters calling for Sycamore Valley and other schools making effective use of Slip scheduling to be able to continue the practice.
At the May 3 meeting, Malloy explained that the decision had been made with the overall picture of the district in mind, while recognizing that the option wasn't implemented the same way in all schools. He emphasized that one reason for the decision was that not all schools offer Slip schedules for kindergarten instruction, but that district officials have seen students thrive without it.
"Site-based decision-making, if you have space for as long as you have it, allows for programming at those places," Malloy said.
"Your challenge working with us is we've got to balance when 36 places need access to something," he added. "But it's not just about taking away, because we've heard it -- I totally accept, and I've seen it in action; I was in classrooms today looking at this in action -- that it's well-used, and it's serving our kids well, and I was in classrooms that it wasn't used today, and I saw great teaching and learning."
"I would never allow us to bring anything forward if I thought the options or strategies were harmful to kids," the superintendent said. "I wouldn't allow us to do that. But ... I also think that yours and our challenge is that when you ask about equity, there are different ways of looking at it. It's not as simple as 'this is equitable and this is not.' This is a great schedule strategy, and there are other great strategies."
The subsequent announcement of the change in course emphasized keeping the option for schools such as Sycamore Valley, without the complications of implementing the scheduling option in schools that aren't already using it.
One challenge anticipated by the district for the upcoming year that has not so far borne out for at least Sycamore Valley is the implementation of expanded transitional kindergarten (TK) opportunities in the district, and the impact it could have on demand for classrooms and instructional spaces.
Malloy noted on May 3 that while he comes from a district that had universal TK, SRVUSD is far from being at that point yet. He also pointed to the district's need to do more for employees and staff who are seeking a schedule that allows them sufficient time with their own families.
The May 6 announcement also acknowledged these challenges, but noted that the potential impact on space in district schools had been less than expected when officials decided to eliminate the Slip schedule option.
While the staggered schedule will continue to be an option for SRVUSD elementary schools that already have it in place, Malloy said that the district would continue to keep tabs on community needs and interests on the topic via an upcoming survey.
"At the Board meeting, I shared that we would survey our community to gather additional information regarding Slip schedules," Malloy said on May 6. "In light of the fact that we can keep the status quo for one more year (if space allows), and in light of all that is happening as we approach the end of this school year, we will conduct this survey early next school year, in order to guide our work for the following school year."