Announcing new bell schedules for the 2020-2021 school year

Thursday, May 7, 2020 - 10:00am
new bell times

Superintendent outlines decision to push bell times 30 minutes at all levels

>>>For complete Bell Times information, including the challenge, the process and the final decision, visit:

For the letter from Superintendent Chris Gdowski regarding his decision to push bell times 30 minutes, see below (Lea este artículo en español

Dear Five Star Families, 

As we enter the final month of the 2019-2020 school year, I can safely say this is not the end to the school year that any of us anticipated or have ever experienced. Despite this, what impresses me most about our Five Star community is its resilience; its ability to come together in challenging times and do right by one another and our students. Thank you for your patience as we continue to navigate this period of remote learning and modified operations together. This partnership will prove essential as we develop plans for next fall that will likely range from in-person learning (our expected and most preferred option) to remote learning or a mix of both.

Before mid-March, when COVID-19 changed how we go about our business, we were nearing the end of a year-long planning and engagement process that contemplates changing bell times at our elementary, middle and high schools. One thing has become clear through this process - there is no perfect solution and any decision comes with tradeoffs. My goal was to find the solution that creates the most benefit for the entire Five Star District, which is why I have accepted the recommendation of the Bell Schedule Steering Committee to push bell times 30 minutes later pending the resumption of normal operations for the start of the 2020-2021 school year.

*NEW* BELL SCHEDULE (effective 2020-2021 school year)

What We Heard
Several pieces of information informed my final decision including input from more than 12,000 students, parents and staff members through three surveys and multiple open house events.

While the vast majority of participants (about 70%) indicated they want to see later bell times, there was no clear consensus on the best solution. Students, staff and parents initially provided feedback on four proposed scenarios. While none of the scenarios were preferred by a significant margin, the cost-neutral option of pushing bell times 30 minutes was preferred more than the others.  

Our final survey asked stakeholders to share their preference between maintaining the current bell schedule and pushing bell times 30 minutes. Roughly 56% of all stakeholders indicated a preference for the current schedule and 44% favored the 30-minute push.

The Whys of the Decision
In addition to input from our engagement process, several other pieces of information helped inform my decision to push bell times 30 minutes later beginning next school year.

  • Sleep research indicates older students benefit from later start times and currently we’re behind in making this happen. As of the 2017-2018 school year, the average start time for high schools in Colorado was 7:52 a.m., and our current start time is 7:15 a.m.
    • Additionally, we have hundreds of high school students currently getting picked up at their bus stop between 5:55 a.m and 6:20 a.m.
  • Our elementary teachers need time before the school day starts to develop lesson plans, and pushing bell times 30 minutes later allows this to happen without reducing student access to school-based co-curricular opportunities after school.
    • 85% of our elementary principals and teacher leaders supported the Elementary Planning Committee’s recommendation to push bell times 30 minutes.    
  • Pushing bell times 30 minutes later provides a cost-neutral solution which is absolutely necessary given anticipated state funding cuts to our district budget by as much as $42 million due to the economic hardships caused by COVID-19.

For more information, including the “Decision Making Report and Recommendation” from the Bell Schedule Steering Committee, please visit our bell times section on the district website.

New Middle School Opportunities 
I recognize pushing bell times later brings some challenges. Middle school currently starts at  8:30 a.m. which some consider to be the “ideal” start time. I share the concern of many of our families about morning supervision and co-curricular opportunities as the middle school start time moves to 9 a.m.

To meet the varying needs of our middle school families, all middle schools will offer the following opportunities to students beginning this fall:  

  • Expanded club and activity offerings before school.
  • A study hall opportunity where students can complete schoolwork in a structured environment. This program will be offered at a reduced cost (not to exceed $3.50/day per student) and participants will pay on a quarterly basis.

Each middle school will share specifics about these opportunities as they communicate with families about the start of the 2020-2021 school year. 

High School - Common Class Period Bell Schedule
In addition to the same start and end times to the school day, the district’s five comprehensive high schools (Horizon, Legacy, Mountain Range, Northglenn and Thornton) will follow a common class period bell schedule (each school will implement the same eight period schedule, with academic support occurring on Wednesdays only). This will allow high school students better access to Career and Technical Education (CTE) programming at FutureForward at Bollman and FutureForward at Washington Square (scheduled opening 2020-2021 school year).  

Next Steps
As I mentioned at the beginning of this letter, my expectation and best hope is that we start next school year with in-person learning. I also recognize our need to prepare for the possibility that we may have to adjust our expectations at any point over the course of the next school year due to COVID-19. We’ve been operating the past couple months on what I call “COVID time”, which seems to work in two-week increments; meaning it’s difficult to make many decisions beyond a couple of weeks out. I hope that soon changes so we can all begin to prepare for the fall. 

Again, we will implement the new bell schedule only if we are able to resume normal operations for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. We anticipate communicating final plans for the 2020-2021 school year, with the latest guidance from public health experts, no later than July 31.

Thank you again for your partnership in supporting student success in the Five Star District.


Chris Gdowski

Centennial and Thornton Elementary, K-8 and Charter Note: This new bell schedule does not apply to Centennial and Thornton Elementary, our K-8 schools (Hulstrom, STEM Lab, STEM Launch and Thunder Vista) and the district’s charter schools.