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NSD School Board agrees to later start times for high schools

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

After surveys of the community showed strong support for starting high schools later in the morning, all five members of the Northshore School District Board agreed that the district should move start times later.

The Board didn’t make a formal policy announcing its intention, but will have the opportunity at its next meeting to vote on a policy affirming the Board’s desire to implement a later start by 2017 at the latest.

Members of Parent Advocates for a Later Start (PALS) came to the Board meeting last week prepared to keep pushing for a later start, but were surprised to find that the Board had already been convinced. Several said they couldn’t read the statements they had prepared and instead simply thanked the Board.

“I came into the study session feeling totally defeated and wasn’t expecting anything to happen, because it’s been disappointment after disappointment,” Wendy Reynolds, a member of PALS, told the Board. “So I wanted to thank everybody for the great discussion and for finally putting out a survey. And when I saw the results, I was so relieved, because we’ve been working on this for so long with the assumption that we had all this support, and to see 80 percent of teachers and parents are backing us — you just don’t see eight out of 10 very often on anything.”

The School Board asked for more information about different options to implement a later start time, to compare the effects of making the change in 2015, 2016 or 2017, and starting high schools at 8:00 or 8:30.

School Board Vice President Dawn McCravey was outspoken in her belief that schools should start at 8:30 (as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics), beginning in 2015.

“This conversation has been going on a very long time,” McCravey said. “The staff has had an extremely long time to figure out how to make it work, if they had the direction to make it work.”

On the other hand, School Board President Janet Quinn preferred making the change to a later start in 2017 to give the district more time to implement the change, including minimizing the impact to people who don’t support a later start. She also said current barriers won’t exist in 2017, since that’s when the district will open a new high school and reconfigure grades to a middle school rather than a junior high model. That means the district will already have to adjust bus routes in 2017.
“There are possibilities that I see in 2017...programmatically, we’ll change,” NSD Superintendent Larry Francois added. “Grade reconfiguration will put different demands on our system. It might increase the opportunities to look at a later start time. We’ll also have new boundaries that will put new demands on our transportation system….But the biggest thing that I see is that we have the opportunity to look at the programs that we’re currently running that are drivers of start time, and think about the opportunity to reprioritize those programs, do them differently.”

The survey, conducted by phone, mail and online, suggested that shifting to later high school start times could limit programs like the elementary music program and junior high students taking advanced classes at high school. Quinn said she doesn’t want anyone to believe their program is in jeopardy.

School Board Member Kimberly D’Angelo suggested the district might be able to find ways to still offer those programs without transporting so many students — for example, by transporting teachers rather than students.
Transportation is an issue because if high school started closer to the time of junior high or elementary school, the district might need more buses to transport all its students, eliminate programs that require extra bus routes or change elementary and junior high start times.

The survey included 385 phone responses, more than 4,000 online and mail responses from parents and about 800 responses from staff. A majority — 63 percent from the community phone survey and 77 percent from the parent and staff surveys — showed support for later high school start times.

At the end of the survey, after respondents heard information about the pros and cons of later start times, including benefits to students, extra costs to the district and the impact on the availability of elementary school music, overall support for later start times increased to 69 percent from the community phone survey and 80 percent on the parent and staff surveys.

“What I felt the data did for us was clarify the work that we as a Board need to do next to make this work,” said School Board Member Sandy Hayes.

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