It might only be the third week of 2024, but Harrisonburg City Public Schools faculty and staff are already looking ahead to the fall – and changes are on the horizon.
The district is already looking ahead and moving teachers and staff to the new Rocktown High School, which is scheduled to open for the 2024-25 school year. And changes don’t stop at staffing — the School Start Times Task Force has proposed new start and end times for every school in the district by suggesting early start times for younger students and later starts for middle schoolers.
Proposed new starting and ending times for schools
Sal Romero, chief of staff, and Basil Marin, family engagement specialist, prepared the report, and Romero presented the task force’s recommendations to the board during Wednesday’s work session. Members of the task force also include board members Emma Phillips and Kristen Loflin, as well as 12 other HCPS community members.
The task force ultimately recommended 30 minutes be reincorporated into the school day. This would undo a change that occurred at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The group also suggested updated transportation times for elementary, middle and high schoolers.
Romero said a major factor in this decision was that elementary students typically have a fixed bedtime and wake up earlier, while middle and high school students have a heavier workload and could benefit from a later start time.
He said the primary goal of the task force was to “pursue what is best for health, safety, and overall improved academic performance of our students.”
The current and proposed hours are:
- Elementary schools:
Current hours: 9:10 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.
Recommended new hours: 7:45 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
- Middle schools:
Current hours: 7:40 a.m. to 2:05 p.m.
Recommended new hours: 9:05 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- High schools:
Current hours: 8:20 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.
Recommended new hours: 8:25 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.
The board also agreed with another recommendation the task force put forward: to hold a public hearing for input by parents, teachers, students and community members. A date for the public hearing has not yet been set.
Rocktown High teacher and staff assignments
With the expected opening of Rocktown High School in August comes a need for new staff members, as well as a transition for many current Harrisonburg teachers.
Of the district’s 198 total high school staff, 83 will move to Rocktown High School, leaving 115 staff members at Harrisonburg High School.
Joy Blosser, chief academic officer, and Jeremy Weaver, director of human resources, explained to the board what the process was for determining the staffing changes.
Blosser said the process began in September 2023 and has closely involved HCPS staff. She said the staff was given preference forms that took into consideration their school preference (either Harrisonburg High or Rocktown), approximate years working in the city public schools, certifications, endorsements and overall course experience.
After careful deliberation, Blosser said 87% of staff placement preferences have been met.
That was a “pretty impressive” number, board member Deb Fitzgerald said.
“Our goal is really creating two solid, balanced teams at the high schools,” Blosser said. “We didn’t want to end up in a situation where Rocktown ends up with all new, inexperienced teachers. That really makes it difficult, especially if you don’t have mentors to mentor those new teachers.”
Weaver said staff members can appeal if they didn’t receive the placement they prefer but that student success is the ultimate goal.
Now that high school staff has shuffled around, Weaver said a primary focus is filling the 58 new positions across the district – including teachers, counselors, coaches and custodians. Filling these positions would cost the district more than $4.4 million, Blosser said.
Superintendent Michael Richards said this number “shouldn’t be too intimidating” because the state budget includes $3 million more for the district than last year. He said the state budget is, however, in its earliest iteration and won’t be approved until later this year.
Weaver said he’ll be recruiting candidates at the 24th annual Shenandoah Valley Teacher Recruitment Fair on Feb. 17.
Clarification: This story was updated to reflect that Basil Marin’s name was included on the task force’s report but that only Sal Romero presented the recommendations to the board.
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