Algonquin to eliminate home rooms – straight to class, no transitional start

Above: Surveyed Algonquin students were split on the value of starting their school day in Home Room. But 80% of faculty were against extending the day to preserve it. (Photo by Susan Fitzgerald)

This week, the Algonquin Harbinger reported that Home Room period will be eliminated from the school schedule in the fall. The measure isn’t part of an effort to address School Start Time issues. Instead, it’s a solution for the school’s gap in mandated educational hours.

The Harbinger reports:

the new change, effective next year, will move attendance and announcements into first period, making each period a few minutes longer

As for addressing student sleep deprivation, the school has had no real plans to report. An update by Superintendent Christine Johnson in mid-April, simply confirmed that the school was still looking at the issue and justified in struggling with it.

Just last spring, Algonquin’s administration was talking about replacing home room with a transitional period to start of the school day. It was one way the district was considering addressing community concerns about teen sleep and the school’s early scheduled start. 

Piloting a flexible learning period was proposed, including a gray area as to when students would be reported tardy. Some saw it as allowing students coming in by car to start up to 25 minutes later. But it wouldn’t have changed the early hour bus stop schedule.

(Busing has been a major factor behind administration’s resistance to changing official school hours. Changing the schedule would require either shifting the K-8 schedule or absorbing significant cost increases.)

The pilot was floated to the Regional School Committee in March to mixed reactions. Superintendent Christine Johnson pitched the concept as focused on issues related to sleep deprivation other than the school’s hours.

The transitional period would have asked teachers to work with students in different, creative ways during that time. Benefits indicated included allowing students to wake up and clear their heads before heading into serious first period classes. It also would have allowed students to ask teachers questions about and finish up homework. That may have allowed students to go to bed earlier than if they stayed up struggling with work.

By May, Principal Tom Mead told the committee that talk about a pilot led to several alternative schedules being bandied around by teachers. He had plans to narrow down options through faculty votes. At that point, the administration still had hopes to pilot a change in the fall. But, talks were tabled to September when faculty failed to make a decision in June.

In October, Assistant Principal Paul Didomenico updated the school newspaper. According to Didomenico, faculty seemed to be coming to terms on deciding between a rotating two-week schedule and keeping the current one. The Harbinger reported:

A rotating schedule would have classes meet at different times of day to deal with levels of fatigue in students in certain classes more than others; it gives students exposure to every class at their peak performance time.

But, shortly after the article ran, the school ran into a bigger schedule problem. Administrators discovered Algonquin was short on educational hours. Each school is mandated to provide students with 990 educational hours during the year.

The discovered shortage forced the school to eliminate their “open campus” exam policy. The open campus structure was originally for end-of-year final exams. The school had expanded the policy to include mid-term exams just the year before.

According to another Harbinger article, after changing the exam policy, the school was still short by 27 hours. That’s equivalent to 9 minutes per day.

This week, the paper confirmed that the school will fix the gap by eliminating Home Room. Home Room is currently a 5 minute period, followed by a 5 minute passing time for students to get to their next class.

The article shared:

49 percent of students and 56 percent of teachers surveyed believed that shifting homeroom into first period is a better use of school time. . .

In an online survey of 141 faculty members, which was distributed on March 22, 80 percent responded they prefered to embed homeroom into first period rather than extend the day.

At the Regional School Committee meeting in April, Johnson said that the administration is continuing to meet with its School Start Time committee and to look at other ways to address sleep issues.

She described her findings from a recent meeting with area schools. She said many schools, including Ashland, are looking at the problem. They are facing some of the same challenges as Algonquin. Referring to busing issues, Johnson said she wasn’t aware of any regional school that have delayed their school start.

She provided no specifics on plans to address sleep deprivation.

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SB Resident
6 years ago

Not sure why you chose to use this as an opportunity to talk about school start time when this has nothing to do with it. Especially when I think there is a bigger issue here of our schools doing less than the bare minimum required by the state.

With the excess holidays, half days, the removal of the built-in snow days, there is ample room to get our hours in and have some cushion to boot. By moving home room they are really only solving half of the deficit since home room activities will still take place first period, which weren’t counted before, but now they can?, way to fix it with a loophole. We pay a lot of taxes and our schools are supposed to be “good”, if we want to be competitive we should be providing more, it is hard not to get disappointed when we keep getting less.

Vern
6 years ago

Thanks for the update. As the parent of two high schoolers who are perpetually sleep deprived and exhausted, I am disappointed that there is no solution to that problem yet. I know the school is “looking into it,” but it would be nice if they could find a solution before my kids leave high school!

Michelle Brownlee
6 years ago

If we want to see a change regarding start times in our district, there has to be widespread support for it in our community. Certainly parents of high school and middle school students understand the importance of the issue, but we will need support from parents of younger kids, too, since a change for older students is likely to impact them. Parents of younger children may need to be educated regarding the health and safety considerations. After all, their children will be in high school one day, too. Talk to your neighbors and friends about this issue and ask them to express their support to the School Committee. And keep up with the progress on this issue by joining the Northborough-Southborough Start School Later Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SSLNorthboroughSouthboroughMA/

Mary Hamaker
6 years ago

The school start time project seems to be stalled. The parents group has only been able to get 1 meeting with the Superintendent this year. There is no list of issues to be resolved with action plan and timetable to resolve them. If residents want healthy school hours for the district, then speak up. Contact the Superintendent and School Committee. Your voices matter. Be heard. The scientific evidence supporting a change is incontrovertible. We should not need something like a death by a sleep-deprived driver (as just happened in NJ) or suicide of a depressed, sleep-deprived teen to galvanize the community into action. Prevention is SO much more effective than fixing after the damage is done.

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