Thursday, May 3, 2012

Bell schedules and Heath Morrison

When a caller asked if I knew the superintendent finalists' stands on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bell schedules, I politely dismissed the question, figuring they had bigger issues to grapple with.

Now that I'm in Reno, I'm thinking that caller was wiser than I was.  Turns out Heath Morrison,  superintendent of the Washoe County School District,  has been dealing with some of the same issues his new district has:  Changing the times schools start and dismiss, and adding more class time for elementary students. The difference in his approach may say something about his ability to sort out hard feelings in CMS.

The short version:  CMS leaders simply announced changes in school hours and added 45 minutes to the elementary day.  Morrison,  who is widely described as a guy who likes to move fast,  decided he needed more time to talk through these issues with faculty and parents.

The situations are not identical.  Former Superintendent Peter Gorman pushed back the hours of some elementary and middle schools to save money on busing and extended the elementary day by 45 minutes, effective this school year.  At the time,  CMS was in turmoil over school closings and possible layoffs,  so those changes got little public discussion.  Now some parents and teachers are saying they were blindsided by changes they should have been asked to help shape.

Washoe has also faced severe budget cuts, but Morrison says that's not what's driving the possible scheduling changes. He wanted to revise his district's complex school calendar and add 30 minutes to the time elementary students spend in class. Like Gorman,  he figured he could keep the kids in class longer without extending the paid day for teachers. And he was hearing from middle school parents who wanted their schools to start later.

Morrison's team launched an extensive public discussion of the calendar changes,  including more than 40 community meetings.  He says he heard from teachers that squeezing out planning time wouldn't be good for them or for students. The result: Washoe slowed down on the changes, with the calendar shift slated for 2013-14 and the others farther in the future.

Morrison says many of the things people are upset about in CMS  --  whether it's bell schedules or testing and teacher evaluations  --  are not bad ideas,  but ideas that were rushed through without listening to people who could have refined them.

It's worth noting that Washoe's unionized employees have more power to push back,  and that it remains to be seen whether Morrison's current district can craft more popular solutions than CMS has. CMS leaders have also made extensive efforts to engage the public on tough decisions,  though many have complained that those efforts fell short.

During the last two days,  I've repeatedly heard that Morrison is good at listening and rethinking his plans when he hears a better idea.  His notion of public engagement seems to go deeper than what CMS is used to doing.

Pretty soon we'll start to see whether that's enough to win hearts and minds in Mecklenburg County.


Anonymous said...

Just don't mess with the assignments zones. Our area has had enough of that for a life time.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Heath,

Welcome to CMS.

Don't bother to change the bell schedule. The extra time is a good thing and we are now used to it. The start and end times are necessary--they will just have to live with it. It is called life.

However, this testing nonsense is out of control. Do students need to be evaluated? Yes. But we now test more than we teach thanks to pilots and other assessments.

The teacher evaluation process using McRel is a good process when it is properly done by someone who knows what they are doing and aren't afraid of a little work. (CMS' criteria is a little more rigid and adds a few layers of unnecessary requirements at the top for our "distinguished" teachers.) Unfortunately there are too many principals out there who either don't know what they are talking about period, are too lazy, or just plain far too arrogant to be useful. Don't get me wrong, there are many a fine principal, but those are so overwhelmingly overshadowed by the horrible one that they are hard to see. THe evaluation process should be more about teacher development and not "gotcha". I can tell you when the last time was taht I heard a principal tell a teacher, you know, this part here isn't the best you can do, so let us work on it together." Now that is an evaluation system and good academic leader.

Anonymous said...

To above RE: McRel. Some good points. Testing is out of control. The whole movement is predicated on an assumption that teachers are too stupid or incompetent to be trusted to evaluate their students.

RE: evaluations - what happens when YOU know more than your principal about the items on the little check list? What is he/she knows little or nothing about pedagogy or the complexity of classroom management? The whole thing is one big, expensive farce.

Anonymous said...

One thing that should be noted--CMS has more than twice the number of students as Washoe County. I suspect that community "engagement" is a lot easier for Morrison in his current position than it will be here.

It would also be good to know, Ann, just how "diverse" is Washoe County? Are there as many differing demands on the school system as there are here? And is there a long history of disagreement over assignment, culture in the classroom, etc.? Also, what kind of "activists" do they have there (and are there groups like Swann, Meck Acts, etc)? Have they fostered an "us against them" culture, as some have done here?

Wiley Coyote said...

2009 Washoe Schools.....

Ethnic Breakdown

American Indian/
Alaskan Native...2.5%
Asian/Pacific Islander..6.5%
Black, not Hispanic..3.8%
Total Minorities...46.2%
White, not Hispanic...53.8%

Christine Mast said...


Year 11-12
American Indian/Alaska Native 1.76%
Asian 4.74%
Hispanic 37.49%
Black/Not Hispanic 2.58%
Pacific Islander 0.87%
White/Not Hispanic 48.14%
Multi-Racial 4.42%

Wiley Coyote said...

...looks like they lost some Alaska natives and Pacific Islanders since 2010...

Christine Mast said...

Just FYI,

As of April 14,2012 and April 22, 2012, I, and others (they have been working this issue for MONTHS), in the quest to change the bell schedules and longer elementary days, already found this same information and passed it along to at least one CMS Board member.

To date, I'm not aware that anything has been done with it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the statistics but those still do not really let us know what the "culture" is out there. Do they have a history of disagreements over education between Hispanic and whites (since those are the two largest ethnic groups)? Have their education issues been based on "diversity"; is achievement gap perceived by some to be caused by "equity" issues? Is there a large community divide over education? Or do most issues center on funding, classroom management, etc, for the entire system with most being in agreement about the issues? If there is a community divide how long has it been simmering--is it recent or does it go back 30 years or more?

Anonymous said...

No matter how it's cushioned, adding time to a student's day is certainly adding time to a teacher's day. That time has to come from SOMEwhere, and in this case it just came from shortening planning time during a teacher's workday - time spent PLANNING lessons, grading papers, attending meetings, etc. Since teachers have less time to do this in school now, it either gets done at home or doesn't get done at all - not a great situation either way. I'm still baffled by how teachers were expected to log more student facetime this year and yet were not paid any more - in fact, have had no raises at all in 4 years. I don't know of many other jobs in which employees would be told, "We're going to add almost 4 extra hours to your work week, and we're not going to pay you any more than we were, and anything that doesn't get done here you should be prepared to do at home, and we're not going to even give you a cost-of-living raise again this year. Now be grateful to have a job." This is surely not the way to boost morale.

Christine Mast said...

Anon @ 8:14am,

I don't know how anyone can answer those questions unless we were able to talk to the community in and around Reno.

But when the finalists were announced, I started digging for news articles about all of them. Here were some pieces I found interesting...

Obviously, some of them have certain "spins" on them, but there's a lot of information here...

Ann Doss Helms said...

Short answer: Reno's culture is very different from Charlotte's. Morrison says CMS is much more like Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. There, he was the equivalent of a zone superintendent, overseeing the schools that were closest to DC, with high poverty levels and a majority of African American students. There and in Charlotte, people who support education and those who have issues with public schools are more organized and vocal than in his current district.

Reno/Washoe County, with its reliance on the gambling industry and the low-skill jobs it generates, has not had a long tradition of public engagement with education. Morrison says he's been using the recession to try to persuade families and business leaders that today a strong public school system is essential for economic health.

As noted, Hispanics are the largest minority group in Washoe County, and they are less diverse than CMS Hispanics, who come from various countries, cultures and language variations. Most in Reno are from Mexico; many children have parents who didn't finish high school and don't speak English well. Morrison says those families are too content; they tend to love their children's schools even when those schools are failing their kids. He says he's been working to make them more effective advocates, even if that means they complain more.

There is an NAACP chapter here and their officials do have concerns about whether he's paying enough attention to low graduation rates for black males.

I'll be writing more about Morrison's programs in Reno to deal with diversity and "cultural competency."

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Ann. Good information! (You're up and writing early there--still on eastern time?)

Ann Doss Helms said...

You got it! Haven't converted to that wild Nevada night life yet.

Anonymous said...

Of course CMS is different than Reno. He is in for the rude awakening once he relocates. He does not have much experience at the top level and he has never seen a district in such turmoil. (times,school closings, exodus of teachers/staff, business influence, gang violence , guns in schools, downtown staff that cooks the books , minorities looking for hand outs) and thats in less than 1 year. I got him losing alot more hair in the next 6 months !

Wiley Coyote said...

Low graduation rate of Black males?

According to their 2011/2012 breakout between gender, there are 61 Black males and 64 Black females in the 12th grade.

There are more Asian males than Black males and more than half as many American Indian/Alaska Native males than Black males in the 12th grade.

I would hope the NAACP would be just as concerned about their graduation rates as well.

Over the past 5 years, 12th grade Black males in Washoe schools have been in range of 61 to a high of 91, averaging 73.

It would be interesting to know how many of the 73 Black males do not graduate each year.

Anonymous said...

Really over the stuff about bell schedules. Less than 5% of parents of elementary or middle school kids have complained, just because they are wealthy and loud CMS should bow down and do what they say?

It's not difficult to adapt family schedules to match the school's. We've done it without any major pains. But then again the sun doesn't revolve around our children either.

susan said...

Uh, Nevada teachers don't have real unions. It's the same thing as NC because Nevada is a right-to-work state. Teachers have a collectively bargaining unit in Nevada as do administrators who shouldn't have that right, but they can't go on strike, and teachers really have no protections if they are unjustly dimissed.

I live in Oregon now, and teachers there have far more protections including the right to strike.

susan said...

Morrison spends a lot of time going out of his office and "listening" to the community, but it doesn't matter if the decision was already made in the first place on bell schedules (those were done because of the bus situation) and an earlier school year. It's just window dressing. I think Ann has fallen sucker to a very slick operator who CMS will soon find is all style and no substance.

Anonymous said...

Having lived 16 years in the DC metro area (and then moving here three years ago), I can tell you that the only thing Montgomery County and CMS have in common is their size.

There is far more wealth in Montgomery County than in CMS. Per capita, it is one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Upper middle class and even the rich put their kids in the public schools (which by the way, are excellent). The central administration is professional and competent. By and large, the community loves its public schools and the state values education by committing a great deal of money to the schools.

In CMS, those who can leave the public schools because of the poor way they are managed. Our central administration is incompetent. Excellent school based leaders are few and far between, though there are some. Based on my three years here, the community thinks very little of CMS and as a state, NC does not value education based on the resources it spends on its schools.

Montgomery County Schools offer their students a world class education. CMS offers nothing of the kind.

Anonymous said...

Susan , I agree our "reporter" is having dinner with this guy and his family. You think she is going to report the negative conversations he is having? You know who else is having dinner with him? Pat Riley , Spanglers , Morgans , Gorman, Bill Anderson , Mayor Foxx , Bill Gates. I mean get in his pockets before he finds out the true way its done and its too late for parents. In 3-4 years we will be doing another search.

Anonymous said...

1:03, I'm curious--how bureaucratic is the Montgomery school system? And how much say do local communities have in decisions about their schools? How are assignment decisions handled? Is assignment generally stable? In other words, do people feel that have some control over their children's education? And last but not least--is school assignment neighborhood based or diversity based?

Anonymous said...

OVer 1/2 of the 33 schools on the late bell have done surveys. Most have over 70% of families unhappy with the bell, at schools with high FRL and lower FRL populations. Virtually all teachers hate this schedule. They have to take time off to get to the bank! Tell a 6 year old to adapt to no time to play after school, explain to them why they can't go to the playground in the dark in January. The schedule is ridiculous. Even board members admit that this is not good for young kids. The only people who do like it enjoy the free babysitting service.

sharon everett said...

Hi Ann,
Question about your statement in the article that school hours were changed to save money on busing and Dr. Gorman added 45 minutes to the elementary day. Why was the 45 minutes added? CMS told us that is was to save money on busing so wondering why you separated the two in your statement.

Anonymous said...

I worked as a first year teacher for Prince George's County, MD public schools with the goal of doing well enough to transfer to Montgomery County (which is adjacent). I won a teaching award my first year in Prince George's County and promptly left. The award plaque I received from Prince George's County Public Schools had my name misspelled. I keep it on my wall as a reminder of what public education shouldn't look like.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Sharon, there were some mixed messages floating during all those changes, but I always heard the longer day for elementary kids pitched as an educational benefit (more time in class). Realistically, it also made sense because they were merging more K-8 schools. The 9:15 to 4:15 day was never pitched as anything other than a way to let buses make one more run, saving money on drivers and buses.

Ann Doss Helms said...

1:07, I had dinner Monday night with a local columnist who is Morrison's biggest critic and spent Tuesday evening with NAACP folks who are skeptical of his data. Wednesday I did indeed dine out with the Morrison family (paid my own tab, for what it's worth).

Believe me, I am aware of the challenge of striking the right professional balance with a leader who is media-friendly and personable. But as you'll recall, that described Peter Gorman, too. He was pleasant to work with, but that didn't stop me from writing less-than-glowing stories. I promise I didn't swoon over the breadsticks and vow to write PR for Morrison.

Wiley Coyote said...

How was Olive Garden?

Anonymous said...

Susan N,

Again, I say yu are an idiot. I don't know what organization you belonged to in Nevada, but they do in deed have a very strong union. It might say Association, the same as NEA is association, but it is a union, so please stop try to muddle the issues with your own personal gripes.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Montgomery County Schools. At least Dr. Morrison knows what a good countywide public school system should look like - not that I think he'll ever be able to replicate one here. Nope.

Ken Nelson said...

The bell schedule was an issue during last fall's campaign that was not given the attention it deserved. While the 12 of us were racing around the county attending this special interest's forum and that special interest's forum, and others of us were fending off attacks from so-called "journalists", nobody could give this issue the attention it deserves.

The fact of the matter is, this is bigger than the "45 minutes". This is a QUALITY OF LIFE issue for not only teachers (who are getting ripped off for having to work longer and not getting paid), parents, and children; it's also an issue for any county resident who is dealing with school bus traffic from 6AM until nearly 7PM. This is not something that makes this area "desireable". We're so scared about allow our children outside to play afterschool, but CMS asks us to leave our kids at a school bus stop before the sun comes up, and in some cases, drops kids off after dark in the height of the evening rush. That's bad for EVERYBODY.

We need to look at this less from the "educational" point and look at it from the practical. Unfortunately, so many of our "school" decisions are made based on some "study" which is biased on some level, rather than looking at the issue from all sides, INCLUDING those who are not involved with the school, but who are directly affected, i.e. neighborhoods with school bus runs during the morning and evening rush.

Any "savings" that we may have realized in this crazy schedule has been eaten somewhere else, and I seriously doubt any "tax savings" have been pocketed by citizens, because most of us are stuck idiling and wasting gas behind flashing red lights after 5 PM.

But then again, I'm just a racist and my opinion shouldn't count, right Ann?

Anonymous said...

Enough about stupid bell schedules. Seriously. ENOUGH.

What, your kid is depraved on the count the were deprived a 8:15 AM start time? Give me a break.

How in the WORLD did I make it to 8:00 AM classes in college located at the other end of campus in deep snow? What about my QUALITY OF LIFE?! I should sue someone. My individual needs weren't met.

Anonymous said...


The entire system is depraved on the count of everyone thinking they're deprived of something. THIS IS THE PROBLEM!

OTE admin said...

It appears the WCSD Board of Trustees is still infected with the Broad virus, for it is enlisting the same search firm, Jim Huge and Associates, to find a successor to Morrison. Huge, of course, is involved with the Broad Academy:

The board is hellbent on destroying the district for the sake of the privatizers, as is Clark County SD. Nevada now has a Bush crony as sup of instruction, and he is blatantly anti-public education.

The district also hired a CFO who is a Broad Residency "graduate." This despite the miserable record of anybody who is affliated with the Broad groups.

Wiley Coyote said...

Abraham Lincoln....

...Though both his parents were most likely illiterate, Sarah encouraged Abraham to read. It was while growing into manhood that he received his formal education—an estimated total of 18 months—a few days or weeks at a time.

Reading material was in short supply in the Indiana wilderness. Neighbors recalled how Abraham would walk for miles to borrow a book. He undoubtedly read the family Bible and probably other popular books at that time such as Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrims Progress and Aesop’s Fables.

...18 months and we're looking at closing the "achievement gap" in 15+ years.