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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Do Your Best and Accept What Happens

The best we can do is to do our best, then accept what happens. Educators spoke up via surveys, letters, and attendance at school committee meetings to voice their concern about changing start times. We worry about the impact a later start and end to the school day will have on our young students, their academic efforts, and other programming such as field trips, extra help, family conferences, childcare, and extracurricular activities. Now the decision lies in the hands of the community--what will they choose?

Many of us gave up several hours last night to attend the school committee meeting, time that we typically spend preparing for school the next day and taking care of our families. This week it was also time we would have used to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. The issue meant enough to us to give up that time. We voiced our concerns and hopes for a win-win solution, a solution that would positively impact middle school and high school students as well as young students, their families, and the teachers who work with them.

What more can we do? We can continue to speak up when possible. We can share our concerns via writing. Then we'll accept the decision that is made, and do our best to continue to meet the many expectations presented with a somewhat less positive schedule. We have to remember that we are not superhuman, and similar to the students we're considering with regard to a school start change, good rest, health, and scheduling is important to each of us too. That helps us to do the work we've chosen and desire to do. We have a fairly good contract, and those are the guidelines by which we are expected to work--guidelines that frame our teaching/learning efforts. Attention to those guidelines will help us to do a good job with reasonable expectations. That's important.

Change and Big Decisions

Like the amoeba, the elementary school teacher is often asked to morph and change year after year to accommodate multiple teaching/learning decisions and changes. Our voices are typically small when it comes to big decisions that affect the work we do, and that's why our unions are important. We have to work together to promote optimal teaching/learning conditions--the kinds of conditions that allow us to do our best work to serve students and their families well.

Decision processes differ from decision to decision and group to group. There's no one overarching decision-making process in place. Yet as I think about this, I think it is important to make decisions with as much transparency, inclusion of all stakeholders as possible, good researching and rationale, and adequate timelines.

I am amazed at how much transportation issues impact school decisions. Last year the school committee spent tremendous time and effort on the issue of where to park the school busses, and now the busses are impacting the decision of when to start school too. I never realized that transportation impacts what we can do to educate students so dramatically. It would be a big job to look at this impact in depth--a job that requires looking at districting, bus costs, and the many,  many routes needed. Recently an MIT group created a new way to look at bus routes. I imagine they used discrete math to maximize the time and busses. This same group will be working with a local system to figure out their bus situation too.

Every decision at school seems to be a big decision since all services and school efforts are tightly woven together--new start times for our schools will challenge lots of systems and efforts that are in place, effort like field studies, extra help, commutes, schedules, child care, after school events, and time available for learning will all be impacted. Yet, this is what happens at schools as we continue to change.

I worry about the impending change of later school start times given the tremendous expectation of rigor and time-on-task at the elementary school. I worry that students, families, and educators will simply run out of steam given so many changes, and changes where the needs of elementary school students and their families seem secondary to the needs and schedules of others. I am concerned about the impact these changes will have on our well-crafted programs and schedules.

I wish the current change, a change in school start could be made in a way that profits all rather than only some. I think it could be done, but that depends on whether it's a priority to those who make and fund the decisions. Onward.

Monday, November 20, 2017

School Start Time Challenge

Research points us in the direction of starting schools at a later time for middle school and high school students, yet to do that at the expense of our elementary students or "morning larks" as they were described by Dr. Judith Owens seems to me to be a price too high when we think of the need to educate all children well.

Why can't we come up with a solution where young elementary school students are able to start school as early as 8 and finish by 2 or 2:30 while their older high school and middle school community members begin at 8:30, the sweet spot for teens noted in the sleep research. How could we make this happen? What will it take? Why would we want this? What's holding us back?

Sports is a big dilemma since sports are based on an earlier high school start--to respond to the research, sports programs need to be pushed later into the day. I don't see why this can't happen since research shows that middle school and high school students who get enough rest do stay up later, and therefore, it seems to me that they'll be able to participate in sports at later times.

Elementary students, on the other hand, are highly energized early in the day--that's their best time to tackle the rigorous standards-based curriculum posed to help them develop a strong foundation of learning-to-learn skills and foundation knowledge, concept, and skill. To start school later for elementary school students is to miss out on their best learning time, and to use that time for other tasks that may tire them out, but not necessarily contribute to the rich learning possible. Just as it's great to maximize later school starts for high school students, it seems that it's equally advantageous to begin school on the early side for elementary school students.

Yet transportation is a costly issue that impacts school start times, and to hire more busses costs money, but if academic success is important, perhaps that money is well spent. That's for community members to decide. Or perhaps, there are different ways to think about transportation, ways that make optimal times for elementary, middle school, and high school students. I'm not a bus expert, and would have to do a lot of research to see if there is a better solution.

As it is, we're having difficulty fitting in the needed teaching/learning during the optimal 8:45-12pm slot of energized time students have at school, and to push it forward another 15 minutes to 9:00am will make it more difficult to maximize the potential that exists. That said, a decision will be made and I'll follow through. I just hope it's a decision that honors what elementary school students need as much as what the middle school and high school students need. That would be a fair and equitable decision.

Some possible decisions to, perhaps, lead to this equitable decision might include the following:
  • Create a new sports league of schools that start high school and middle school at 8:30 - 9:00
  • Consider bus routes with multi-age students and drop off elementary school students first for an earlier start, then high school and middle school students
  • Start later and tell other schools you play sports with that your games have to be later
It seems like starting high school at 8:30 or 9:00 would give the busses time to pick up the elementary school students beforehand. Let's see what happens.