4 committee members urged September change
After hearing the views of three principals involved as well as the superintendent and themselves, the School Committee has voted to support changing the start time at the middle and high schools to 8:30 a.m. in 2020.
Four committee members who support the change for next September expressed displeasure with the delay.
At the Thursday, March 14 meeting principals of the middle and high schools attended at Superintendent Kathy Bodie’s request.
The three principals supported the American Academy of Pediatrics 2014 recommendation that middle schools and high schools adopt an 8:30 a.m. or later start time because of the biologically unique sleep cycle of adolescents. According to scientific studies, an 8:30 or later start time will increase academic performance and social and emotional functioning.
However, the principals all expressed concern that it was too late in the academic year, when they were already planning course schedules, to accommodate a new start time for September 2019.
After offering considerable criticism concerning the three-year delay in instituting the 8:30 start time, the School Committee voted unanimously that the middle schools and high school would move to the 8:30 start time in 2020 and the superintendent would report on an implementation plan at the last School Committee meeting in June.
Bodie supports '20 later start for AHS, not middle schools
After committee member Len Kardon moved to change the start time to 8:30 for the middle schools and high school next September, Bodie noted strong support for the later start time from parents and teachers, as shown by multiple surveys.
While acknowledging the value of the later start for students’ social-emotional functioning and academic performance, Bodie reported that in forums at all three schools, she became aware of “deeper issues.”
Among them, presented by a high school teachers, was the question about “how are we going to measure success in this change? That caused us to think,” Bodie continued, “if we were to change [the start time], we would need to delay it so we could address this and other issues.”
After hearing from the principals and School Committee members, Bodie recommend that the start time for the high school be changed to 8:30 in September 2020 and that the middle schools' starts be discussed further.
Principals respond to Kardon’s start-time motion
Kristin DeFrancisco, principal of the Gibbs School, began the discussion by reaffirming the value of an 8:30 start time by acknowledging that “there was lots of research to support it.” Drawing on her experience from the first year leading Gibbs, she cautioned that “in rolling out new things if you go too fast it blows up in your face.”
While the change in start maybe developmentally appropriate for the students and most of the teachers favored it, DeFrancisco said, making the change for next September would be difficult: Teachers have already made daycare arrangements for next year and contract issues would become a concern.
DeFrancisco also brought up a problem to the school system that had yet to be mentioned -- the need to pay teachers additional compensation for meetings after 2:45 p.m., which she said would cause a “fiscal burden.” For these reasons, she recommended September 2020 for the change.
Ottoson Principal Brian Meringer also recommended that the change in start time be delayed until September 2020. While he concurred with DeFrancisco that “you do what is best for the kids,” he faced questions from teachers that he could not answer. They included: Could the teachers meeting be held at the beginning of the day and could the times be staggered with the other schools to allow students to more easily take the bus?
Meringer added that he had also been approached by teachers who had already arranged day care for next year. Taking all of this into account, he concluded, “I don’t know if this fall makes much sense, rather than a year out.”
AHS Principal Matthew Janger agreed it was “a little too quick for fall ” but was pleased that the School Committee was taking up this issue, which “was supported by the research and in the best interest of the kids.”
Janger offered a short history of changes in start-time changes within the Middlesex League, which has been discussing the issue as early as three years ago. At that time, he said he did not see it as that urgent since Arlington’s start time was at 8, while other high schools were as early as 7 or 7:30.
Since then, he said, his view has shifted, and he recommends the 8:30 start time. At the same time, he warned them “it is important that we do it in a reasonable and methodical way.”
One concern he had was that after-school activities and athletic practices could be moved to before school, defeating the goal of changing the start time to accommodate students’ sleep cycles. A second concern was that in December, the teachers and staff started building the schedules for next year and were in the process of fine-tuning them.
Summing up, he reported that a September 2019 start time would require redoing some scheduling and encountering some unintended consequences in the fall. A September 2020 8:30 start time would allow him to ensure a thoughtful transition that would maximize the impact of the change.
Committee, critical of delay, supports change in '20
Committee member Jennifer Susse said she planned to vote against Kardon’s motion, because she agreed that the schools “had not worked out the details” for an 8:30 start time in September 2019.
At the same time, Susse said wanted to express her frustration. The school department and the School Committee, she reported, “had been talking about it for three years.” During this time, they had conducted two surveys that were favorable to the change and, following them, Susse said she been assured that everything was fine for changing the start time to 8:30. She concluded, “It seems to me that it should have been done in the last two years, and I am incredibly frustrated.”
Kardon agreed with Susse. When he joined the committee three years ago, he said the committee discussed changing the start time extensively. The change to an 8:30 start was delayed until the next year, pending some survey results and then in 2018 moved to 2019.
Kardon speculated that “there may have been internal communication problems in the administration,” but “the School Committee has been planning it for three years.” He stated there was a “need for the School Committee to be more clear with the administration to come back with a plan.”
Member Bill Hayner joined Susse and Kardon in the criticism of unwarranted delay. “We are right back where we were three years ago," he said, "postpone, postpone, postpone.”
Member Jane Morgan expressed disappointment: “We are not going forward definitively in the fall.” She was sure that the school administrations could be ready by this fall. In the interest of consensus, she said she would support the move to fall 2020, commenting that “anything is better than nothing.”
In a series of amendments to Kardon’s motion, the committee first voted to change the date to September 2020 (6-1, Kardon voting in the negative), and second, to add a provision to direct the superintendent to deliver a detailed plan to the committee at the last meeting in June (passed unanimously).
The final motion -- that the Gibbs, Ottoson and AHS have a start time of 8:30 beginning September 2020 and the superintendent report a detailed plan at the last committee meeting in June -- passed unanimously.
Gibbs report, fiscal '20 budget
In other business, the committee heard a report on the Gibbs school by Principal DeFrancisco and the proposed fiscal 2020 budget By Chief Financial Officer Michael Mason.
After discussing the financial plan, the committee voted to approve it. The budget for the next fiscal year totals $76,695,743, an increase of $1,262,624 over fiscal 2019. See the details in these links >>
Jan. 14, 2019: 8:30 a.m. start time weighed
This news summary by YourArlington freelancer Jo Anne Preston was published Wednesday, March 20, 2019.