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3/19/2013 11:12:00 AM
Parents and teachers voice concerns at school forum
About 50 people attend March 12 meeting to discuss length of school week and end of the 21st Century afterschool program
Williams Unified School District Superintendent Rachel Savage discusses the length of the school week at a forum March 12. Marissa Freireich/WGCN
Williams Unified School District Superintendent Rachel Savage discusses the length of the school week at a forum March 12. Marissa Freireich/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

Parents and teachers voiced academic and financial concerns about the Williams Unified School District's (WUSD) possible schedule change at a parent community forum March 12. About 50 people attended the forum.

With the 21st Century grant expiring in May, the district will no longer be able to offer after school, Friday and summer programs for elementary school children. Without the grant, district officials are considering whether to stay on a four-day schedule or switch to a four and a half day or five-day schedule.

WUSD Superintendent Rachel Savage and Business Manager Melissa Ellico presented information about operating costs, instructional hours, attendance and classified staff for the past six years, including three years of data from a four and a half day schedule. They also shared results from a parent and staff survey, in which the majority of respondents favored staying on a four-day schedule. Then they opened the forum for discussion.

One parent expressed concerns about his children's academic performance without the 21st Century program. He said the program provides students with valuable help with homework. If the program is eliminated, he wondered if test scores would go down.

Savage said it was a valid point.

"That's something that we're going to have to consider, how we can continue to meet those needs," she said.

Another audience member was concerned with how the longer school days on a four-day schedule affect the kids, especially with the new national standards known as Common Core. She wondered if kids have a harder time paying attention later in the day.

Savage said she did not know.

"I'm not sure if our kids are fully brains-on until 4 o'clock and if that's going to have a long term effect," she said, adding that teachers are working hard to keep students engaged. Later in the evening, Savage addressed the issue again.

"If you're asking me, do I think the kids would be learning more if they were coming five days instead of four, I think that's a real possibility," Savage said. "Maybe if the day wasn't as long, and maybe if they were engaged on a fifth day, I think there's a real possibility for that answer to be yes."

The audience member added that the students should come first.

"I just feel like all these questions are asking what the community wants but they're not asking what's best for our kids. That's just my concern," she said. "All I've heard is money and I haven't heard kids."

Savage responded by saying the administration and governing board want what is best for the students.

Teacher Maya Caldwell said she was unsure about the budget.

"I guess with the override passing I just got confused when I heard about the CCC (Coconino Community College) building and I heard about all these new expenses," she said. "I was just shocked that we could even afford a five-day."

Caldwell said she worried that the additional costs of a five-day schedule would make it more difficult to bring back the music program.

Savage said she is looking for creative ways to bring back the program.

Caldwell also said she understood why the district is considering one dismissal time for all students to save on transportation costs, but had some concerns.

"The other piece is I teach kindergarten," she said. "They're babies, five- and six-year-olds, and the idea of them being on a bus with middle school kids and high school kids... all those things are just overwhelming and I just don't think that's appropriate."

Ellico said all students ride the buses to school together already, and most of the kids in the after school program ride the 4 p.m. bus home with older kids as well.

If the district decides to go back to one dismissal time, officials are considering putting cameras on every bus, separating the different age groups on the buses and having staff supervise the kids on the bus.

Amanda Orozco said the district needs consistency.

"Most of the community just goes along with whatever happens, but then when all of these changes, like every four years we're hitting them with oh we're going to do this or oh we're going to do that, the faith in the school system starts dropping, and I think that shows in the attendance," she said. "Yeah we lost some for the four-day week and now if we change this somebody's going to get mad and may pull out. So I just feel like whatever we do we need to start being a lot more constant on things because I think it makes a huge difference."

Savage said the school board needs to discuss the issue more and will not make a decision by spring break (March 18-21), which she had originally hoped.

She encouraged parents to visit the district's directory on its website, www., where they can find email addresses for administrators and share their opinions.

The discussion continued the following night at the governing board meeting.

High school English teacher Robin Gutshall provided the board with a student perspective. Gutshall said she assigned her students to write a letter to the editor about one of several subjects. Several students chose to write about the topic of the school schedule, and the students had different opinions.

"I was just surprised, taken aback, by how many students pay rent, contribute to the household income, are saving up for college," she said. "And so what they were saying is, part of that is that they work on Fridays as well."

Gutshall also added that several teachers are pursuing professional degrees, which would benefit students. The four-day schedule allows teachers to work on those degrees on Fridays.

Board members Herman Nixon, Alyssa Dennison and board president David Nenne said they favored staying on the four-day schedule. Board members Bud Parenteau and Thomas Ross favored switching to a five-day schedule.

The board expects to vote on the school calendar for next year at the first meeting in April.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, March 23, 2013
Article comment by: Ron Pauly

More demands by the feds when the teachers are already spending to much time coaching kids to pass tests.AIMS and now(common core)
From the grades Ive seen the teachers are having enough trouble getting passing grades from the students as it is.
The century 21 going away just means worse grades. From what Ive seen if i did my job like the teachers do i would be fired. Probably union members.

Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Article comment by: Tennille McDougall

I would not trust anything that Rachel Savage would do that would benefit the school or kids. It disgusts me that she is the superintendent and am thankful that my children are not in her control. Whatever happened to what is best for our children should come first? It was not hiring her that is in the best interest for Williams children.

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