MILLBURN, NJ - As soon as Board President Berylin Bosselman struck the gavel and began Monday night’s Board of Education meeting, the hot agenda topic focused on scheduling was tabled. A sigh of relief filled the crowded room, as concerned parents, who assembled to voice their disapproval of the revised hours for the 2018-2019 school year, awaited clarification from the Board.
The Board was scheduled to vote on a measure that would extend the hours of each school’s day by 15 minutes while preserving the current start time. In the high school, this would allow for a universal extension of lunch.
On Sunday, Millburn High School Principal Dr. William Miron posted a proposal for the revised schedule to fit these hours on the district website, under the MHS “About US” tab. The next day he followed up with the entire high school community, including students, faculty and parents, with an email explaining the proposal and its benefits.
The schedule shortens each period by two minutes, and condenses homeroom into the tail end of first period. These changes allow for ten extra minutes in each lunch period (A and B) for those who do not have Senior Privilege. The Seniors will still have an hour-long lunch, and the freedom to leave the campus during that time. However, the Seniors will have an eighth “advisory” period in the first semester. This time is meant for students to do their work, make strides in the college application process with their guidance counselors, meet with their respective clubs, and see teachers. In the second semester, the Seniors will schedule either a study hall or an elective for that extra period.
This proposal came after what many Board members referred to as “years” that an “innovative schedule” had been discussed to advance health and wellness.
The goal is to maximize the limited time within a school day. The district goal was inspired by Stanford’s Denise Pope, who specializes in student stress and behavior when she came to speak at Millburn Middle School a couple of years ago. The district goal reads, “address scheduling and the use of time towards maximizing student learning.”
Although there was some confusion, the overwhelming consensus of approval for the high school’s proposal to its students, faculty, and parents was drowned out by the frustration of elementary and Washington School parents.
Elementary parents firmly believe that the schedule change dramatically impacts their lives, as well as the well-being of their children. The concern is that they will be unable to drop their children off at school at their typical time in the morning if measure passes and the elementary day begins later. Also as a result of a later start in the elementary schools, and no change in the high school start time, the busses would have to drop the elementary students off significantly earlier than needed in order to drop the high school students off on time.
“Maybe you don't want to send your child to sit in a multi-purpose room from 8:20 to 8:50 every morning when you have made the choice to alter your work schedule so you could be with them,” said an elementary mom.
Tara Halpern, a Glenwood parent, built upon this statement by saying “No child should have their needs dispensed of at the expense of other schools and other children.”
The popular belief among the youngster's parents is that early drop-off is not an option due to an insufficient amount of supervision. One parent cited her daughter sitting in the hallway - unsupervised - waiting for class to begin.
They felt blindsided by the proposal and insisted on a better line of communication between the Board and all parents within the district.
These parents were not the only ones who were shocked by the lack of communication. BOE member Emily Jaffe, a strong advocate for block scheduling, was irate when she saw that the vote to approve the revised hours was scheduled for Monday night’s meeting. Jaffe felt that dialogue was needed to discuss the reasoning for the scheduling changes. She insisted, however, that she never had that conversation.
“I thought I missed something,” Jaffe said. “I couldn’t understand how we [the BOE] were possibly being asked to vote on a new schedule without a rationale, without the details…. I take huge issue with the way this was handled. I don’t understand how we did not have a conversation. I don’t understand how this ended up on the agenda. It feels like a huge waste of my time.”
Jaffe went on to direct her complaints towards Dr. Burton, insisting that the BOE constantly runs into similar communication problems. Eventually, Burton conceded that the Board needed more time to review and discuss the schedule changes.
Jaffe did support the communal lunch and saw the entire schedule change as a step in the right direction towards block scheduling. However, the legislation was not communicated to her prior to the meeting. In her mind, she had no choice but to push the potential change to a later date.
“We could have possibly voted on it and improved the schedule had we handled it differently. But we didn’t. So now it’s postponed,” said Jaffe.
This year’s daily schedule will remain consistent.