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School Start Time Subcommittee



Watch the video: School Committee Meeting, Oct. 10, 2019
(Courtesy of Holliston Cable Access Television)
Watch the video: School Committee Meeting, Jan. 19, 2017
(Courtesy of Holliston Cable Access Television)

Over the past decade, the levels of stress and anxiety reported by Holliston High School and Middle School students have become a top concern. In 2015, the Superintendent’s Task Force on Student Stress was formed to take a close look at what could be done to better support the social-emotional health of our students. As part of that study, a survey indicated that most middle school students (55 percent) and the vast majority (74 percent) of High School students reported not getting enough sleep. Because sleep experts have shown that the natural sleep cycle of adolescents runs about two hours later than both adults and young children, there has been a push across the country to move start times later for older students. Armed with both research and first-hand accounts from students, the Task Force named a change in start times as one of its top recommendations when it finalized its report in 2016.


With the work of the Task Force complete, the recommendations were given to the School Committee for further action. The School Start Time Subcommittee, made up of three members of the School Committee, began its work by examining the wealth of research on the optimal sleep cycles of teens and on the specific recommendation to better align the start times of middle and high schools to that optimal sleep cycle. This work was driven by the overwhelming evidence that making that change would result in improvements in our students’ physical health and safety (reduced rates of motor vehicle crashes due to “drowsy driving” and increased levels of physical activity); mental health and behavior (reduced risk for anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, increased motivation and reduced vulnerability to stress); and academic and student performance (improvements in academic performance and school attendance and a decreased drop-out rate).


The Subcommittee learned through its research that re-aligning start times brought with it some significant challenges, particularly in the areas of scheduling after-school sports and activities and the impact that any change would have on school bus transportation, community traffic patterns, before- and after-school child care and family routines. Most of these impacts are unique to the community and required considerable study and analysis before determining the best course of action for Holliston.


Phase I - Fall 2016 through Fall 2018


Recognizing that there are a number of factors that are unique to Holliston and unalterable (the geography and traffic patterns of our community, and the location and grade-structure of our schools) , the Subcommittee developed three scenarios that would account for those factors and, at the same time, provide for a moderate adjustment to our middle and high school start times. The cost factors (related to transportation) were also reviewed. School administrators were interviewed and shared their feedback on the scenarios under consideration.


In May 2017, the Subcommittee issued a comprehensive survey to students, staff, and parents and compiled and analyzed those survey results over the course of fall 2017. On November 28, 2017, the Subcommittee presented a summary of their work to the Holliston School Committee and the School Committee asked the Subcommittee to continue to explore this topic with an understanding that any changes, if any, to school start times resulting from this study would be implemented NO EARLIER than the 2019-2020 school year. During the Winter and Spring of 2018, the Subcommittee worked with the Administration in an effort to develop a plan to implement the preferred scenario.  In the Fall of 2018, the Subcommittee reported that the preferred scenario (which called for Miller and Placentino Schools to open at the same time) was not feasible, as the elementary campus was physically unable to safely accommodate the car and bus traffic that a simultaneous dismissal would generate. In addition, the parent/community survey results indicated that parents strongly opposed any diversion of funds from programs or an increase in fees to accommodate any changes in school start times (i.e. an override).


Phase II - Winter 2018 to Spring 2019


The Subcommittee went back to the drawing board with a renewed commitment to finding a scenario that would adjust start times for our older students while remaining cost-neutral.  After brainstorming options, the Subcommittee decided to bring forward an option that would switch the HS/MS start/end times with the Miller start/end times. The Subcommittee developed and issued a second survey to all parents and reviewed the results of the survey with the School Committee at its May 16, 2019 meeting.  The School Committee has subsequently voted to change the start dates of the Holliston Public Schools, effective the start of the 2020-2021 school year as follows:


Current School Times

Revised New Times

Effective 2020-21 School Year

Change

HHS 7:30 AM – 2:03 PM

HHS 8:10 AM – 2:43 PM

40 minutes LATER

Adams 7:30 AM – 1:53 PM

Adams 8:10 AM – 2:33 PM

40 minutes LATER

Miller 8:10 AM – 2:33 PM

Miller 7:30 AM – 1:53 PM

40 minutes EARLIER

Placentino 8:50 AM – 3:15 PM

Placentino 8:50 AM – 3:15 PM

No change


Phase III - Summer 2019 to August 2020 - Planning for Implementation


With the decision made, the effort shifts to planning for the new start times.  Of primary importance is addressing the concerns expressed by some Miller parents regarding the impact this change would have on their need for before- and/or after-school care for their Miller students and the concerns expressed by some Miller parents that this change would require their children to wait for the bus before sun up during the winter months.  The Superintendent and Director of Holliston’s Extended Day program will develop a survey to administer to all Miller and Placentino parents in September 2019 to determine the level of community need in this area. Equipped with this information, the Superintendent will work with our Extended Day program and private providers to meet any increased demand caused by this change.  At the High School and Middle School, administrators and teachers will also work to minimize the impact of the new start times on the after-school extra-curricular and athletic programs.  


Update: December 2019


At their December 12th meeting, the Holliston School Committee unanimously voted (with one member absent) to reaffirm and move forward with the plan they previously approved in May 2019, to adjust the school hours for the Holliston Public Schools as follows:

  • HHS: 8:10 AM – 2:43 PM
  • RAMS: 8:10 AM – 2:33 PM
  • Miller: 7:30 AM – 1:53 PM
  • Placentino: 8:50 AM – 3:15 PM

Originally approved in May, these revised school hours generated concerns among some parents in the community. In response, the School Committee engaged with these concerned parents and held a public forum that outlined the science behind the changes and offered people the opportunity to ask the Committee and Superintendent Jackson questions about the change. An open debate also took place at October Town Meeting.


Following these events as well as numerous meetings that individual Committee members held with concerned parents, the Committee reviewed a set of 10 proposed alternative start times scenarios proposed by this group of concerned parents. At their November meeting, the School Committee publicly reviewed each proposed scenario and concluded that eight of the ten proposed scenarios were untenable and removed those proposals from further consideration. The Committee then directed the administration to review the remaining two scenarios and report back to the Committee on their impact and viability.


At their December 12th meeting, the Committee reviewed the comprehensive analysis prepared by the administrative team and agreed with their conclusion that the drawbacks associated with either scenario were significant, making both remaining alternative solutions unviable. Following that discussion, the Committee unanimously voted to reaffirm their originally voted plan.


With this decision reaffirmed, parents and staff are strongly urged to begin planning for the impact that these changes could have on your individual family routines.  At the same time, Holliston administrators will begin finalizing the detailed plans needed to implement these new school hours. In addition, the School Committee and Superintendent will discuss the process we will use to collect the impact of these changes and how we will use that data to see if refinements of this plan are needed in future years.  


In addition to planning already under way at each school, the administration has already reported that they have a plan to open up a number of spots in our Extended Day program next school year to meet the anticipated demand for additional before and after-school care  Holliston Extended Day is also planning to offer an 80-minute “gap” program to cover the time between the dismissal of Placentino students and Miller students, so that siblings might be picked up together. The Holliston Extended Day program will formally announce the availability of their options later this winter and share sign-up information.  Further, the Committee reached out to the “Y” in Hopkinton regarding availability in their program for after-school care and that effort is showing promise. Interested parents should contact the YMCA directly if they wish to learn more about their after-school programs. Finally, the School Committee has authorized a transportation audit to see if we can find ways to make our bus system more efficient and/or convenient. The administration will share the results of this audit with the School Committee at one of their upcoming meetings as soon as the review has been completed.