School Bells Ring Earlier
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School Bells Ring Earlier

Elementary schools in South County pyramid face earlier start times, bus routes.

The introduction of a modified bell schedule at South County Secondary School this fall is having a ripple effect on elementary schools in their pyramid — earlier bell times for young students.

Ranging from a few minutes to an hour, students at Halley, Lorton Station, Silverbrook and Newington Forest elementary school and their parents may have to adjust their morning routines for the 2006-07 school year.

"Our schedule is only changing by about 15 minutes," said Jamey Chianetta, assistant principal at Halley Elementary School. "Hopefully, there won't be any changes. Our teachers' hours are still the same, from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. School is just starting at 8:45 a.m. instead of 8:30 a.m."

In fact, teachers will now have a few more minutes to plan their lessons together, Chianetta said.

"If anything, the change gives parents more time to get their kids out of the house in the morning," she said.

The change is equally small at Silverbrook Elementary, where the schedule was changed by all of five minutes.

"We won't even notice it, really," said Mary Evans, a Silverbrook employee.

AS THE PARENT of a student at Newington Forest, however, Evans may have to modify her morning to adjust for his school's start time, one hour earlier than last year.

"I don't think it'll be a problem," she said. "We had a feeling it was coming."

Last year, the instructional day at Newington Forest began at 9 a.m. Now, because middle school students at South County will be starting their day around the same time, her son's school will be starting at 8 a.m.

"It's only about a half-hour difference for us because of the time I have to be here," she said of her work schedule at Silverbrook. "In a way it's better, but in the afternoon, there's a bit of a gap."

Evans said her husband used to arrive at home a few minutes before her son in the afternoon, but now he will be home for about 15 minutes before her husband.

"Having him home a little early doesn't thrill me, but it's a change and we'll deal with it," she said.

Even with the hour-earlier adjustment, Newington Forest principal John Kren said his school routines won't change much.

"We'll just slide everything up an hour," he said. "Nothing in the instructional program will change."

Lunches will be served an hour earlier, including on Mondays when the early dismissal will be 12:20 p.m., Kren said.

So far, any comments from parents have been positive, he said, as many children are up early already.

"It's better for our staff too. People are more productive in the morning than in the afternoon," he said. "Plus, now it'll allow our staff to make late afternoon doctor's appointments if they need to, which they couldn't do before."

The biggest change will be for staff meetings, which used to take place in the morning. They will be scheduled for the afternoon for this year, he said.

Overall, there have been no complaints yet about the change in school schedules, said Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent for transportation and facilities with Fairfax County Public Schools.

"If there have been complaints, I haven't heard them," he said. "Most of the changes have been innocuous."

He credits South County principal Dale Rumberger for the apparent ease in the adjustments.

"He put together a fantastic schedule in a way that it sounded like a great idea," Tistadt said. "I couldn't be more pleased."

Parents may be more concerned about the nine-period day schedule at South County and how that will affect bus transportation, especially for after school activities, but Tistadt said the first part of the school year should run smoothly.

"I was worried that some drivers in that pyramid may resent the new schedule but that hasn't been the case so far," Tistadt said.

However, he did say that this is not a schedule that could be maintained for several years.

"It will put some strain on the drivers as the year goes on, we'll have to borrow from other pyramids for late buses," he said. "We'll see about that later, inclement weather and darkness may cause some anxiety, but we won't know for sure until we get into it."

Tistadt said his drivers could probably continue on this modified schedule for a year or two, but he hopes the upcoming boundary study planned for South County this fall will allow the schools to return to their normal patterns.

"The nine-period day expanded the facility and when it's available to students but we may need to make other tweaks to provide what the students need and the community requires," Tistadt said. "Right now, though, everything is aligning for a success story."