Officials are putting together a working group of parents, Board of Education members and New Canaan Public Schools representatives to study the widely discussed question of whether the district should implement later start times.
That group will convene in two or three weeks and weigh considerations that include ways that starting school later would affect bus schedules, traffic, homework, extra help and extracurricular activities that include athletics, according to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi.
A change to start times would ripple beyond the schools themselves to a larger “ecosystem,” Luizzi told NewCanaanite.com in an interview, “so when you start to move one piece of it, everything else has to be looked at and often adjusted.”
“It is looking at the whole system and that’s why it’s much more complex than saying, ‘Just move it.’ It’s not impossible, either.”
The Board of Ed is commissioning research reports from a firm called Hanover that helped Greenwich with its research before that school district opted this year for later start times, Luizzi said.
“We are working with them and we have crafted out a study to look at districts that have moved their start times successfully and to start identifying what are the common elements from those successful schools?” he said.
“What they are developing now is the research questions. So my first step with the committee—now that the board has approved the objectives after tonight—is to set up a meeting to review the research questions and the survey questions they are going to use to ask other districts about this. We will get those questions, we will discuss them as a committee and then they will go out and do this research for this.”
He referred to the second read of the district’s updated goals, which the school board during a meeting on Tuesday night, held at New Canaan High School, approved 9-0.
One of the district’s goals this year is to “research and report on best practices related to school start times with a focus on meeting student, parent, staff and community needs.”
Those needs are wide-ranging, Luizzi said, and several practical considerations must be weighed.
“For instance, in our district we have three bus tiers,” he said. “So the first tier runs and does grades seven through 12. The second tier is South and fifth and sixth over at Saxe and then the third tier, they don’t start until 9:05. So our buses are running from 7:30 to 9:05 on those three tiers. So to change the start times, there are only so many variables to play with. One of them is the number of buses you have. So a bus costs anywhere from $100,000 to $120,000 per year. And we have three tiers and the number of buses we have are based on those tiers. If you were to go to two tiers, you would have to buy more buses.”
The working group also will look at extracurricular activities such as athletics and arts, he said.
“As you shift to a time later, then you are shortening the time students have for those kinds of activities. In some schools that have done this—like a Greenwich or Wilton—they have some students who will miss the last period of the day in order to travel to a contest,” he said. “And that’s a tough trade-off, so that’s something we would need to talk about. So you have that squeeze.”
In addition, there’s this practical question, the superintendent said: If high school starts later, then what do you do with the time that you now have created?
“Do you protect that time? Because if you don’t, then—I believe, from seeing and talking to people—that the things that the people do after school will just shift to before school, and so your students really aren’t getting more sleep.”
Those things could include extra-help sessions, clubs, activities and practices, he said.
There’s also “a homework piece,” Luizzi said.
If the time students have after school for homework is shortened by one hour, “then are you going to readjust your expectations for the amount of time students spend doing homework outside of school?”
“You are starting practices later, and if you don’t have lights on fields or if you’re traveling to schools that don’t have lights on fields, you still have to get there earlier and you’re competing against schools that don’t run later, so they might start their games at 4 so that they have their daylight, but if you are not getting there until later, then you may not get there in time.”
The work of the group that’s studying the question of later start times will not be done before spring, Luizzi said.
“Because first it’s the research, and then if the research shows us this is something for us to continue and it’s early May, then it’s about working with some other folks who are more expert in this and bringing them in to look at our specific context and then develop some recommendations from there,” he said.