Changing School Start Times On Hold for Now

As you know, the Start School Later Committee has been studying the possibility of changing the start and end times of the Middle High School and Penn Brook School for the past two years. When the research on the  health benefits of giving middle   and high school students more time to sleep based on their biological clock was brought before the School Committee by an interested parent, the Committee agreed to study the topic because it was the right thing to do for our students.

The SSL Committee was made up of interested parents, administrators, School Committee members  and staff  from all schools who were interested in this topic and were willing to keep an open mind about whether or not this was something that Georgetown should be doing in the best interest of the health of our children.  Some people believe that everyone on the Committee had made up their mind from the start and they were intent on pushing this through but I can tell you that ,while there were some people who were for it based on the research, everyone on the Committee was willing to listen, learn and carefully study all of the logistical challenges that arose as part of the study .  As part of the process, the Committee held two community forums, conducted two surveys, set up a local  SSL chapter to access current information on the national movement, met with  groups and individuals such as the bus company,the after school director the staff at both schools twice, the school administrators, the music teacher at PB and the Athletic  Director. They also brought sleep expert Dr, Judith Owens to the district and I have participated in a local team of Superintendents  who are studying this issue in a regional basis.  The SSL Committee met virtually every month on a voluntary basis for close to two years because they took on the challenge and they wanted to do their due diligence in developing a recommendation for the School Committee that represented the opinions and consensus of the community.

The SSL Committee met tonight and reviewed the results from the recent SSL survey.  After looking at the data and discussing it, Chairman Barbie Linares  made a motion not to move forward with a change in the school  start times at this time.   The community support  was just not there to make a  change and the Committee listened to the voices of the community. Within the next few days, the results will be posted on my blog and on the webpages  for those of you who would like to look at the  results for yourselves.  We will post a summary document with a breakdown by question but it is important when looking at it to remember that not all questions were asked of each group ( staff, parents and students in grades 5-11). In addition, links to the specific results by group will  be posted in case you prefer to look at the results more specifically.  If you see some questions with o% that is only because those  questions were not asked of that group.

The Georgetown School Committee will have the chance to review these survey  results prior to  their  last meeting of this  academic year on Thursday night.  The SSL Committee plans to meet once more in the fall to debrief the process and to plan a meeting for the School Committee where they will share the lessons learned and suggest future considerations .

In the future who knows what will happen with this topic but the research will continue to mount as more districts start school later.  The medical community and the state will continue to consider the pros and cons and update the research.  Currently the Education  Committee at the state is studying whether to mandate that all middle and high schools  start no earlier than 8:30 AM.  I don’t imagine it will pass  because it may  cause hardship to local districts across the state but I have been wrong before about what the lawmakers might do. However, not there are several local districts that are  studying this issue  and two districts  (Newburyport and MASCO) have taken steps  to move their discussion to the planning stage. The MIAA has been considering changing the starting times for sports to make it easier for districts who want to start later to be able to do so. The research is driving the conversation at the state level and ,in the end, many districts have and continue to be able to overcome the obstacles  that we in Georgetown  are not able to do at this time.

It has been my pleasure to serve on this Committee with Barbie Linares, Suzanne MacDonald, Paula Hooper, Christine Orvis , Theresa Frost. Robyn  Blum , Mary Lyon, Margaret Maher, Mark Winer, Heidi Mongeau, Amanda Harding, Jill Valli  Jackie Conners and Stacey Lemay.

No matter which side of this issue you come down on, the  community is fortunate to have passionate people like this group who will volunteer their time to study an issue that is proven to be good for students in places where it is being done . At the heart of all of it, the health benefits were always the  driving force behind the study for this group  and , in the end , the logistics  just could not be worked out.