Op-Ed: Next Steps in Evaluating School Start Times in New Canaan


On Monday night, the Board of Education took an important step in its consideration of school start and end times by narrowing its focus and directing the administration to further evaluate the pros and cons of one particular scenario as presented in the community-wide survey this past May. The Board of Education did not make a decision to change school start times on Monday evening. Instead, the Board is continuing to learn about the impacts of a potential change on students, parents, families, staff, and the community, and to solicit feedback from all stakeholders in order to best anticipate the consequences of making a change prior to making a decision. The Board is continuing to follow the process that it had outlined previously, and will continue to learn about the impacts of a potential change in the months ahead. 

As a Board, we are exploring making a possible change to school start times as one dimension of our broader initiative focused on creating the conditions for improved student health and wellness. This discussion is occurring in school districts locally and nationally in response to a growing body of research that highlights the important connections between sleep and student health and wellness, the complex challenges faced by today’s adolescents, and the positive impact a change in school start times can have on student sleep habits. In light of this information, the Board believes this is an important issue for us to consider, and we know that we must do so carefully. Our state- and nation-leading public schools are a complex system that requires proper balance to run optimally, and we are committed to sustaining the tradition of excellence that is a hallmark of the New Canaan Public Schools.

This spring, NCPS administered a survey to students, parents and the community with strong response rates of over 90% of students in grades 7 to 12, 60% of families, 95% of faculty, and over 100 community members. Parent and faculty response rates were fairly consistent across grade levels as well. On Monday evening, the survey results were shared with the Board of Education. At that meeting, it was striking to note that, although there was no apparent consensus on any given schedule (the survey provided five options), parents and students responded positively when asked to consider the impact of alternative schedules on their health and wellness. This feedback, and other feedback the Board has received from the community, propels us forward in our review and study, which the Board is committed to doing as we look ahead to the 2019-2020 school year. 

Monday night’s meeting was a culmination of months of study of a range of possible scenarios, the details of which are available at https://www.ncps-k12.org/Page/6098 (the survey results are available at https://www.ncps-k12.org/Page/633; the meeting video is online as well).

On Monday, after reviewing the survey results and discussing the various scenarios, the Board guided the administration to further explore one scenario that was presented in the survey. The scenario selected was listed as the “Three Tiered Version 2” scenario; it grouped the elementary schools into the first busing “tier” with a 7:45 a.m. start, the high school into the second tier with an 8:20 a.m. start, and the middle school into the third tier, with a 9:05 a.m. start. The other scenarios were rejected for a variety of reasons, including cost, afternoon end times, and lack of perceived positive impact on health and wellness for students. 

The next step in this process is to refine the start time scenario the Board chose to evaluate, including developing bus routing and timing, communicating with service providers such as the YMCA, the New Canaan Nature Center, Parks and Recreation, and others to consider ways to optimize the time available for extracurricular activities, evaluating potential staffing implications given the proposed times on staff shared across buildings, and others. These efforts will provide information for the Board and the community to help all stakeholders consider the impact start and end time changes could have on their particular situations. 

Please know that the New Canaan Board of Education will continue to do everything it can to support all of our children through careful, thoughtful analysis and decision making. It is our ongoing mission to find ways to optimize our school system on behalf of all of our students while respecting the complexity and daily challenges of our schools, families and broader community. If any member of the community has questions or feedback, please feel free to email me at brendan.hayes@ncps-k12.org and/or the Board at ncpsboemembers@ncps-k12.org. 

Brendan Hayes
Chairman, New Canaan Board of Education

One thought on “Op-Ed: Next Steps in Evaluating School Start Times in New Canaan

  1. Thank you, Chairman Hayes, for your excellent leadership, professionalism and willingness to listen to your fellow board members and the community. I/we appreciate how you have outlined the rationale behind moving forward with further exploration of this alternate scenario and the timeline. You are keeping our children’s health and wellness at the forefront of your critical decisions. While sleep is one component of the overall health and wellness strategy at work by the BoE (as you have pointed out), the abundant medical research and science in this field definitively supports Sleep as one of the most important factors of this overall strategy.

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