MISSOULA — Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) administrators say they're ready to roll with a new student schedule this fall.
They also say they're prepared to adjust times, depending on how this first year goes.
The district had been talking about a "late start" for high school for the past several years and the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a complete, top-to-bottom review of the entire schedule.
"This next year, our goal was to get back to the regular school day length, but also maintain some of those things that worked really well for us, including a later start time for high school," MCPS Superintendent Rob Watson explained.
So the District is adjusting; not just for high school, but all classes. That includes a little earlier start for middle school, uniformity for elementary dismissal, and a later start for high school, especially on Thursday at 9:40 a.m. -- building on the student improvement noticed last year.
"Students were more alert. They seem to have a better attitude, maybe 'cause they were getting more sleep. I have no idea. But that just their mental health and social-emotional stuff seemed to be better this year," Watson told MTN News,
"Now we hope that that doesn't translate to, you know, middle school students. Kind of, you know, being growly when they get there," Watson continued. "But we're hoping that we can adjust that middle school start time in in future years. But I think for this first year we're going to try to make it work."
Watson sees real improvement with the elementary dismissal changes.
"Traditionally, elementary had half the students releasing at three and the other half at 3:30, which was really difficult for families if you had multiple students in the same school."
Part of the challenge was working around bus schedules. Watson says Beach Transportation was very cooperative, working around issues like bus seat belts and the available resources.
"They're limited by the number of drivers that they have available in the community. And so, unfortunately, we can't all start and end at the same time. We have to have some stagger in there."
Although administrators have spent a tremendous amount of time fitting all these schedules together, Watson says there may have to be some adjustments in the future.
"We would hope that we can use this next year to kind of analyze all of that and try to find some better times. That will depend on how much flexibility we can get with our transportation services. But we'd hope to use this year to try to figure out what some of those problems are and figure out some better solutions in years to come."
That includes how the later dismissal for high school students -- 3:55 p.m. -- can impact after school activities, as well as employers who depend on a teen workforce. And that's where the district wants that community feedback.
"I think anytime we can develop processes that make it a little bit more family-friendly like the common release time in elementary, I think we need to try to do that. Even though it may not be perfect," Watson said. "And we may have other challenges in other areas. We need to try to do that."
Watson says all of the information about the schedule changes is posted on the MCPS website. And if parents have specific questions, they'll be able to direct that to the leadership at each school when they start returning from summer vacation next month.