Quantcast

Opinion: Deferring new school start times – a difficult decision

In early January, Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski recommended that the Board of Education adopt an operating budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year that would increase education spending by $12.8 million. His recommended budget was designed to complete the district’s multi-year strategic operating plan; it would be the last of the “catch up” budgets that, according to the state, have made our schools the number one urban district in Connecticut.

Soon after the Superintendent made his recommendation, the board’s Finance Committee reviewed the budget. We were already aware that the city – Mayor Harry Rilling, the Common Council and the Board of Estimate and Taxation – was not able to fully fund a $12.8 million request. We thus reduced the recommendation by removing goal #7, healthier high school start times, in order to save at least $732,000.

The full Board officially approved the recommendation from the Finance Committee. It was a difficult decision – and perhaps the first of many difficult decisions we will make as budget discussions continue – because every board member strongly backs the need for later start times for our high school students. We view the vote as a deferment until next year’s budget, which might possibly have a silver lining because of the complexity of implementing new start times among our schools.

The science behind the need for later start times for high school students is considered settled; there are a variety of biological issues associated with students of high school age that make the traditional early high school start times counter-productive. Surveys among high school students across the country indicate the number one issue for them is not stress but being tired all the time. There is considerable data on the positive correlation between rising academic achievement and later start times.

Of course, we believe the emotional, mental and physical health of our high school students is always a top priority. But we also believe this type of initiative cannot be rushed; there are a range of logistical and financial factors that need to be carefully worked out, specifically the additional transportation costs, which at this point are not clear. The $732,000 was considered a placeholder based on a preliminary discussion with a bus consultant.

Currently, there is a task force consisting of parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and consultants, with Heidi Keyes as the Board liaison, examining several start-time scenarios, each with a different cost. The task force is working on a survey and will convene focus groups. It also plans to convene a forum for high school students. The task force still has a lot of work to do and needs to do a thorough job.

After the task force makes an official recommendation, the full Board will consider the initiative and make a final decision. We believe it would be premature to allocate funds for the healthy start initiative before the task force concludes it work.

Crafting operating budgets sometimes requires board members to defer initiatives that will improve our schools. When the Finance Committee recommended deferring the start time proposal, we were aware that any new initiatives would probably not survive this year’s budget cycle. Our goal was and still is to preserve and complete already implemented initiatives. We believe waiting a year for the start time change, especially since other districts in the region are still wrestling with it, was something we had to do.

A lot of good things have happened in our schools the last few years. To name a few:

We have transformed Special Education and substantially reduced what had been skyrocketing out-of-district tuition costs for our Special Education students; we have increased our high school graduation requirement from 20 to 26 credits, conforming to state recommendations and providing our high school students the ability to compete successfully; we have created remedial intervention programs that have led to higher test scores; we have a new science curriculum; we have implemented a new gifted and talented program and redesigned our middle schools.

Our overall goal in the next few months is to work closely with the city to preserve ongoing initiatives and to figure out ways to implement initiatives that will make our schools second to none in the state.

11 comments

also January 21, 2019 at 1:54 pm

“The science behind the need for later start times for high school students is considered settled; there are a variety of biological issues associated with students of high school age that make the traditional early high school start times counter-productive. Surveys among high school students across the country indicate the number one issue for them is not stress but being tired all the time. There is considerable data on the positive correlation between rising academic achievement and later start times.”

How about what time these students are going to bed? With the rise of Social Media, Netflix, and Gaming systems how many students are going to bed at a REASONABLE time? Changing the times will have NO Effect, as now students can go to bed even LATER!

What happens when they go to college (if they choose) and students have an 8:00 AM class? Or get a job that starts at 8:00? Where is the survey for what the NORWALK parents think? Or is just blog posts and Facebook posts the only parent voice heard?

Debora Goldstein January 21, 2019 at 5:39 pm

Another question is why it costs almost three quarters of a million dollars to shift a school schedule.

Mike Lyons January 21, 2019 at 8:10 pm

also, perhaps you missed this part of the story above (given your question “Where is the survey for what the NORWALK parents think? Or is just blog posts and Facebook posts the only parent voice heard?”):

“Currently, there is a task force consisting of parents, teachers, principals, administrators, and consultants, with Heidi Keyes as the Board liaison, examining several start-time scenarios, each with a different cost. The task force is working on a survey and will convene focus groups. It also plans to convene a forum for high school students. The task force still has a lot of work to do and needs to do a thorough job.”

Teacher January 22, 2019 at 8:34 am

Will all grade levels teachers and parents be given an opportunity to comment? A change this large will effect all three school level.

Kevin Kane January 22, 2019 at 9:23 am

also raises the key question about what time kids go to bed. However, as a parent of a 12 and 14 year old and even my 49 years ago, I know that “going to bed” does NOT mean “going to sleep”. The modern day night lite is a screen of some sort of electronic device that among other things, keeps people wired. In addition, I’ve come to find out that our family (ok, our sons) are vastly in the minority of kids who are not allowed to play Fortcrack, I mean Fortnite, during the week.
Will the $urvey$ and $tudy to $tudy the $tudy that $tudied the effect on $tudying ask 3 simple questions:
1. How old is your child that attends Norwalk Public Schools?
2. What time do they go to bed?
3. What time to they go to sleep?

Furthermore, what has changed? I’m not as dumb as I look; so are all of us dummies because we were raised in an era of going to school relatively early in our K-12 years? I had a morning paper route at the age of 13 – up at 6:00 with no help from parents for an hour of hard labor before school and learned real quick that I needed to set priorities. And go to sleep. I don’t think it was “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man happy, healthy and dumb”.

Parenting is getting outsourced to schools and I feel like this delayed start time is the next task to follow that unfortunate pattern.

Wake up folks! Oh….wait…..never mind….stay asleep.

Thanks, Kevin

EnoPride January 22, 2019 at 9:27 am

Agree with Teacher. Later hours for high school students would require a major disruptive shift for elementary schools to start even earlier. Some feel the early start already applied to some of the elementary schools is not taking so well. BoE should have more of a dialogue with elementary school administrators, teachers, parents and stakeholders to discuss the impact of the early start currently in place with some elementary schools and to discuss how an even earlier start across the board for all elementary schools may not be advantageous to the younger students or to the families’ work/childcare provision schedules. In helping the high school students to get more rest, you would be taking rest away from your younger students with an extremely early start time. This possible future disruptive shift warrants a discussion, and preferably not a closed session one.

We already have a closed session decision making City Hall, and look how that has impacted Norwalk. We cannot afford a closed session BoE in a big decision such as changing school start times which will impact everybody. Yes, a Start Time Committee is in place, but more stakeholder dialogue is important here.

Elisabeth B January 22, 2019 at 11:36 am

I think it was a great idea to move this back another year or more. While it is a great idea that needs to be addressed, we currently have so many irons in the fire that we need to complete some things before starting new ones (i.e. changing the start times of the remaining elementary schools, repairs to schools, building new schools, etc). It makes perfect sense to me and I’m glad that we are thinking proactively. Well done BOE, it is much appreciated!

I don’t envy anyone involved in the budget process. Now more than ever Norwalk needs to be careful and thoughtful with our spending. It’s inevitable that things will get cut and people will be disappointed, but something like this saves us money without removing teachers or much needed other resources.

Norwalk Lost January 22, 2019 at 12:28 pm

What should be a difficult decision is continuing to grow budgets to unsustainable levels to test out theories at the expense of taxpayers. I firmly agree with the commentator that NPS should not be in the role of parenting. The board needs to show more restraint and this is a good start. Economics dictate that we are due for a recession in the next year or two apart from the fiscal mess the state is in. The city needs not to be on a Bridgeport trajectory where higher taxes will be the tipping point for much lower grand list valuations and exodus of a teetering home ownership base.

Mike Lyons January 22, 2019 at 6:01 pm

The BoE is looking at expanding input from the elementary school level. We received a request from the School Governance Councils at the elementary schools for a larger presence on the start time review committee and we are favorable to that request,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>