School Start Time: ARHS may pilot transitional start; K-8 outreach before discussing start time changes

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.

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Danielle Doherty
8 years ago

April 17, 2015
What About Us?

I am writing to you in response to the ongoing conversations on changing the starting time of school for Algonquin. Being a graduating senior, I will not be directly affected by whatever decision the Algonquin Start Time committee makes; however I have an issue with the way it is all being handled. While I know that the Algonquin’s Student Advisory Committee is holding communications with the school board, there is nowhere near enough input from the students who would be directly affected by changes of the start time.

What really concerned me was Algonquin Start Time committee’s Mary Hamaker’s response to Mr. Mead’s desire to hear what students have to say on the issue. According to the “School Start Time” article published on March 19 of 2015, Hamaker said, “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.”

This comment was extremely alarming to me. While she made it clear the starting time was an issue that needed to be addressed, she blatantly disrespected the whole student body by ruling us out as a place to find valuable opinions. At the high school level we are being told everyday to think and act like adults, yet are constantly having major decisions in our life being made by “the grown-ups.” How are we supposed to feel like we are growing if we are being looked down upon? After all, it is the students who are attending school every day whose schedule is being impacted. If it is our success and well-being that is being discussed, why are we not being heard? We are not children anymore, and should not be treated that way. It is quite dissatisfying to know that the leader of a committee whose job is to advocate for the students would completely leave us out of the equation.

While I understand that the schedule being discussed is not set in stone, I strongly believe that the school board and the Algonquin Start Time committee should consider the overall opinion of the student body.



8 years ago

I’m afraid I have to agree with Ms Hamaker. This is a decision to be made by parents and taxpayers, not children – and I’m sorry, at 17 and 18 years old, graduating seniors are still children living at home, following parental guidelines.

Beth D
8 years ago
Reply to  Bill

Eighteen year olds can vote and they can be sent to war. Certainly, they should have a say in what time they get up in the morning.

Mark Ford
8 years ago

I meant to write this yesterday. I completely agree with Ms. Doherty, who lays out a perfectly cogent argument. I respect my son’s opinion more than many adults, especially on matters that affect him directly. (He’s an ARHS student.) I intend to ask him about this–Danielle, what is your feeling about school start time? Is it shared by a majority of your classmates?

There are many considerations involved with the decision about school start time, but the opinion of those directly affected should absolutely be a big factor in the mix.

Sorry, Bill. I’m not saying that their views will ultimately rule the day, but I’m most interested in hearing them.

Danielle Doherty
8 years ago
Reply to  Mark Ford

While I appreciate your opinion Bill, I think it is unfair to assume that all 17 and 18 year olds would be unfit to have a place in this decision. As Beth D said, if we have the right to vote and can be sent to war, what makes us so unfit to determine what time change could benefit the community we live in?

I think that the school start time is extremely early Mr. Ford. There are many studies showing the negative effects on teenager’s performance in school, due to lack of sleep. However, as many of us know there comes a toll when trying to move around a whole high school’s schedule and in order to make it work for everybody.If we want to even begin thinking about making a permanent change, there will have to be trial and error which could be very taxing on the kids, parents, administrators and even Northboro and Southboro as a community; this makes me think, would it even be worth it? I think that it would be great if it could be changed, but can understand that that’s just the way it is and I have learned to adapt to it.

Thank you for considering the opinion of the students Mr. Ford. It is adults like you that rightly represent the upcoming youth of the community.

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