Proposed Change to School Start Times
In January 2017, we formed the Start Time/Scheduling Innovation Steering Committee, composed of our assistant superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, school committee members, and myself. The Committee was given a broad mandate to review, research and suggest changes aimed at improving the health and well-being of our students. The topics we have been researching and discussing include school start times, block schedules at the Middle School and High School, homework, and class offerings.
Because of the vast scope of these issues and the complexity in researching and gathering data for them, the Committee has decided that its first priority is to focus on school start times.
The science relating to adolescent sleep patterns and school start times is clear and becomes more compelling each year. Studies of adolescents tell us that they experience a physiological shift in sleep cycles. Most find it difficult to fall asleep before 11 pm and to wake before 8 am. We know, from existing surveys, that the vast majority of our students at Weston Middle and High Schools do not sleep the recommended 9+ hours per night, and a troubling number sleep 7 hours or less.
Data from school systems that have moved middle and high school start times later show that, most importantly, students actually do sleep more hours per night. This additional sleep leads to improved academic performance, higher test scores, increased alertness in class, and lower rates of tardiness, depression, risky behavior, substance abuse and car accidents. In one district
that implemented later start times, 92% of parents said their children were “easier to live with.”
While the Committee is prepared to recommend to the School Committee that the Weston Middle School and Weston High School implement later start times for the 2018-2019 school year, there is much planning work ahead and community feedback to be collected. Under the most likely plan being considered, the Middle and High School day would begin at 8:45 am and end at 3:15 pm, while the elementary school day would begin at 8:00 am and end at its current time of 2:20 pm. We do not anticipate significant changes to the Middle School or High School block schedules in this first phase of our work, other than a small reduction in the length of each class period.
The Committee recognizes that these changes raise a number of challenges, including impacts on bus transportation, our students who participate in our METCO Program, athletic program schedules, family schedules, and childcare. We as a school community have a tremendous amount of work ahead of us to effect this change. In the coming weeks and months, the Committee will be reaching out to parents, faculty, staff and the community through forums, surveys, and our website. Working together, we believe we can work through any challenges.
We all must also keep in mind the many opportunities that this change will bring. Foremost, our students will get more of the sleep they need. Because our size allows us to be nimble, Weston Public Schools can be a leader in adopting important changes that we expect to see in many districts around us in the coming years. We look forward to working with our students, parents, administration, faculty and staff to bring about this important change to improve the health of our students.
I can think of no better statement about the Weston Public Schools than that we are taking on a difficult task to improve the physical and emotional health of our students. I urge you to send your comments and concerns to the Committee through forums, surveys and email. There will be a presentation by the Committee at the October 30, 2017 School Committee meeting at Case House. In the interim, you can learn more at the Committee’s website here.
Dr. Midge Connolly, Superintendent, and the Start Time/Scheduling Innovation Steering Committee
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