Striving to be leaders in the national trend toward later high school starting times, Sag Harbor administrators have outlined six options of potential time changes for the school district.
In early October, in response to concerns expressed by parents and students and a growing body of research that supports moving start times later for students’ overall health and success, the Board of Education created an ad-hoc committee, to explore possibilities and develop plans to present to the board. The committee is in the midst of eight scheduled meetings, with each meeting designed to tackle a specific challenge, such as after-school program scheduling at the elementary school, transportation and budget challenges and athletics schedules.
The decision to pursue a schedule change came shortly after the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in late August that called insufficient sleep in teenagers “an important public health issue” and recommended all high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The report, and others, showed that teenagers’ circadian rhythms make it nearly impossible for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake before 8 a.m., and that growing adolescents have less ability to focus in the early morning than younger children and adults.
The school board voiced its support of making a change for students’ benefit as early as last spring, but remained wary of the challenges of altering the long-ingrained schedules of school buses, interscholastic athletics and extra-curricular activities.
As it stands, the day at Pierson Middle/High School starts at 7:25 a.m.—which is on the earlier side of national start times—and ends at 2:26 p.m. After a 45-minute route, Pierson buses drop students off between 7:10 and 7:15 a.m. The Sag Harbor Elementary School day begins with morning program at 8:35 a.m. and ends at 3:10 p.m. Elementary school buses also have a 45-minute route, and students are dropped off at the school between 8:20 and 8:25 a.m.
The school district, which owns all of its buses and runs transportation itself to save money, has seven large buses, five mini-buses and one van, and 13 bus drivers and two substitute drivers. There are 750 students who are eligible to ride the bus.
The committee has come up with six possible options (see sidebar) to change the high school start time, which will be presented when the board meets on December 1.
Under the first option, the morning bus runs would remain separate, but the afternoon runs would be combined, meaning that students in kindergarten through 12th grade would ride the bus together. Both the morning and afternoon runs would be combined under options two and three. For those three options, administrators project that five additional buses would be needed. Purchasing two buses and contracting out three buses would cost an estimated $690,799, or $511,769 if the two buses were leased instead of bought. That cost includes an additional parking lot to store the new buses, as the current lots are at maximum capacity.
“Economically,” Superintendent Katy Graves said Monday, “it’s such a challenge to combine the bus routes.” The committee also expressed concerns over having five-year-olds ride the bus alongside teenagers.
“The combined bus runs—again, I always think we can work through issues and we would—but initially, that would pose some obvious difficulties and challenges,” said Sag Harbor Elementary School Principal Matt Malone.
“We’re always aware of the goal of trying our best, within reason, to keep these little kids young as long as we can…that’s something that we’re very cognizant of, so [sharing buses] would be something that we’d have to really talk through and work through,” he added.
Under options four and five, the district would keep the separate bus runs and thus need no additional buses or funding, administrators said. Option six was just added last Thursday and hasn’t been thoroughly vetted yet, but Superintendent Katy Graves said the plan, which is a less ambitious option with a still early start time of 7:45 a.m., “could possibly increase our busing to athletics.”
Ms. Graves said the fourth option, “flipping” the elementary and high school start times, is a popular choice in districts that have successfully implemented a change, but “culturally, the way we built our district with the morning program and everything—I would be very concerned about that.”
Another concern, which was echoed by Mr. Malone and Donna Denon, the elementary school vice principal, is the potential loss of the time allotted for after-school programs, if there was a later dismissal time at the elementary school.
“There’s no way to do this without some kind of effect and a compromise,” said Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, who has been vocal in her support of moving high school start times later.
“Unequivocally,” she continued, “it is so much healthier for kids to go to school later…. Every piece of research documents that this is a worthwhile process to go through, but we have to acknowledge that, I think, almost every choice or recommendation that’s made—it’s going to have some pain associated with it…. That’s going to be the conversation—what is most beneficial with the least negative impact on children?”
The administrators are creating a survey about the potential changes to get feedback from parents, students and staff.
Representatives from Section XI will discuss the impact a change would have on athletics at the committee’s next meeting, on Wednesday, November 19, at 7 p.m. in the Pierson library. The committee will draft final plans on Thursday, November 20, also at 7 p.m., and present those plans when the school board meets on December 1 at 6 p.m. in the Pierson library.