Last night, Superintendent Christine Johnson unveiled a proposal to change how Algonquin’s school day starts. But there was some grey area around when it would start.
Though not the purported intent, a proposed pilot could potentially allow students who don’t take the bus to arrive up to 25 minutes later. It was met with mixed reaction by school committee members and parents.
The district chief reported out to the Regional School Committee on the administration’s look at School Start Time issues. For 90 minutes, administrators, school committee members, and concerned parents weighed in on the issue and proposal.
Johnson and Algonquin administrators described a pilot they hope to launch in the fall. The new school structure would scrap the 5 minute homeroom in favor of a 25 minute transitional start to the day.
The first period block would become a “structured learning time”. Activities allowed are still in discussion with teachers and students. They are asking teachers to come up with creative ways to help their students during the period.
As of now, ideas include directed academic support, virtual online learning, using the media resource center for research, using the college resource center, holding individual or small group guidance meetings, stress reduction activities, and even buying breakfast in the cafeteria.
Students would be assigned to a classroom and require passes for activities outside the room.
Mary Hamaker, leader of the Algonquin Start Time committee, thanked administrators for taking a serious look and beginning to act. She saw the schedule change as an improvement to asking “bleary eyed” students to jump into first period AP courses.
One concern the committee had was a nebulous description of a revised tardy policy. Under the proposal, attendance would be taken at 7:20 and again at 7:45 am. The second attendance time is intended to reduce students’ stress around being tardy. Johnson referred to students stuck on Bartlett Street, having trouble getting on campus for the 7:20 am start.
But some saw the second chance for on-time attendance as extra sleep time. Member Dan Kolenda viewed that as an opportunity for concerned parents to allow students (who don’t take the bus) to sleep later.
Member, Paul Butka saw the same opening, but from a different view. He worried that it would be an advantage to more privileged kids who can afford their own cars. While those “stuck on the bus” would still be losing sleep.
Butka suggested adding in a stipulation that limits the number of times students can miss the 7:20 am start without being tardy.
Johnson said that she was optimistic students would respect what they were being given in a transitional start. She also emphasized that it’s a pilot.
Administrators would begin to analyze tardiness and absenteeism at the end of the first term. They would also begin surveying teachers and students. That way they could evaluate the pilot’s success before planning how to proceed in the next semester.
Some were concerned that the school was delaying addressing the real problem of the early start time.
Parent Steve Witkowski told the committee:
We say we have one of the earliest start times there is. Now were going to do a structured opening block. Kids still have to be there and they’ll have slept just as little time.
I’m just a little disappointed we’re not really taking the tough decision upfront. It’s easy to make no decision. It’s easy to delay
Butka pushed to start next year, but incrementally. He advocated moving school start time by at least five minutes, with a plan to shift it annually until they reach the ideal start time.
Johnson advocated that shifted schedules should move by at least 15 minute increments. But she was against making any changes without first engaging the K-8 Community. Her plan was to move forward with the pilot next year, while beginning outreach to the “one community of learners” about bus schedule changes.
According to Johnson, there is no cost-free way to adjust the Algonquin start time without moving K-8 times. Even a look at flipping middle school and high school starts didn’t work.
Pushing the school start by even 5 minutes without changing the K-8 start time would require adding in another “tier” of buses at $60,000 per bus. The change would result in another $700-800,000 for the combined district. No one advocated for pursuing that option.
Other concerns voiced included the shortening of in-between period times from 5 minutes to 4. Some believed it’s not enough to allow students to get to classes across the school in time.
Principal Tom Mead found lack of consensus among students he met with. Not all want school to run later in the afternoon. They have concerns about jobs and responsibilities for younger siblings.
Hamaker cautioned administrators about listening to students:
while it’s interesting, and even helpful, to get the input of the students, health and safety issues are decided by the grown-ups
Don’t let the kids be the fallback and say “Oh, we’re not going to do this because the kids don’t want it.”
These kids will burn the candle at both ends until they fall over .
She also explained that while some issues are “real”, like childcare, others aren’t. She believed that a later time wouldn’t really impact after-school jobs.
According to Hamaker, studies showed most employers are concerned about 4:00 pm as when business increases business rush.
On another note, Hamaker worried about the brainstorming for creative uses for the first period. She asked the school to resist cramming too many things in.
This was the committee’s first look at the proposal. Johnson told members that she will be coming back with more details in a future meeting.
Updated (3/22/15 11:45 AM): corrected misspelling of Mary Hamakers name.