After discussing school potential no-cost start time changes for almost a year, the School Committee rejected a proposal to further review the issue that has been a concern since 2012, for implementation in fiscal 2025.
That means nothing will be changing for the 2023-24 school year, but the issue will continue to be reviewed over the summer.
“We’re status quo for next year,” Superintendent of Schools Jeff Szymaniak said.
Member Glen DiGravio said his sense is the committee still lacks a consensus for what it wants to do.
“We need to have a unified goal,” he said. “That’s what we should do … make a goal and move on. At least we’d accomplish something.”
“I think we’re trying to eat an elephant in one sitting, and that’s not going to work,” agreed Hillary Kniffen. “Before we can look at start times vs. end times, we have to look at transportation.”
Obstacles include cost vs. no-cost options, transportation logistics, teacher contract impact concerns and some parents who are not in favor of extending the day, according to Szymaniak who recommended Whitman-Hanson “not do this for the school year 2023-24,” which would be funded in the fiscal 2025 budget.
Length of bus rides home is at the top of the list of transportation issues.
“One [reason] is with a superintendent hat on and one is as a parent,” he said. “If I’m a parent … we would have to modify our day care.” He said his family is dealing with a similar consideration in Pembroke schools, and his wife “would be more than a little upset” if they had to deal with that.
“As a superintendent, I think this is a viable plan for our students,” he said. “I think it’s a good option for us. I think it increases time at the elementary level to be [comparable] to all the schools in our area. Time with teachers is very important at the elementaries.”
But he also has to balance that against the concerns of teachers in the district who have children at home and have to adjust their day care decisions.
Vice Chair Christopher Scriven disagreed with the notion of a no-cost option if the idea behind it was to push out a decision to another fiscal year.
David Forth said he understood the no-cost option was merely a base point for discussions.
“What I’m looking for is a commitment from the committee to go with a modification and go with what we present,” Szymaniak said. “We’re not just going to spin our wheels.”
Putting the decision off at least another year will permit discussions with parents where there is some animosity or anxiety about bus routes now.
The benefits of a 6.5-hour school day include: increased student engagement; more meaningful educational relationships between students and staff; greater balance between academics and enrichment; increased teacher enrichment; a more effective balance between learning time and quality of instruction and increased social-emotional health of students.
Pitfalls include: attention fatigue; more time does not always mean higher test scores and it reduces the opportunities for extracurricular activities.
Szymaniac said the school district meets the DESE minimum standards at all levels.
WHRSD’s school day is six hours long, according to Szymaniak, with the median day among area districts being six hours 15 minutes and the average six hours and 19 minutes. There are five Plymouth County districts with a 6.5 hour school day and four in which the school day ia from six hours 40 minutes to six hours 45 minutes.
The state’s average school day is six hours 45 minutes long.
Nationally there is only one state with a policy that school days be more than six hours long and eight requiring at least a six-hour school day.
Not all states make a requirement, including Massachusetts, where it is calculated not by hours of the day, but hours in a year.
W-H parents have been asking how additional time in the classroom would be used, he said.
“The additional time will add flexibility to the current schedule to allow opportunities for smoother transitions, independent time and social-emotional health,” Szymaniak said. “We don’t see an additional 20-30 minutes adding to [negative student] behaviors.”
School Committee member Beth Stafford said, putting on her old hat as a union person, around April vacation to negotiate the issue, she doesn’t think it would get passed.
“I think it would be a hard go, because there’s not a lot of time to have the people meet, negotiate and then ratify or not ratify a contract,” she said. That would take until June and that would be way too late to expect parents to be able to make the needed adjustments.
Member Fred Small agreed, saying putting it off a year would allow time for public meetings to get the parents on board.
“You recognize that there are a lot of concerns from the parents,” Member Michell Bougelais said. “There’s a lot that still has to be discussed, has to be worked through … so I want to just say thank you for not trying to push it through for September.
Dawn Byers thanked the Student Advisory Council who took on research illustrating the need for the change.
“I think we owe it to those student representatives and all the other students who have spoken out asking for help,” she said. “They’re asking for our help because they are in crisis, and we can’t ignore that.”
She expressed frustration that more time was being sought when the issue was first brought up last summer – to add 15 minutes to the school day.
She also asked what needed to be bargained in teacher contracts. Szymaniak said the start and finish time of each school is spelled out in contracts and any contract change needs to be bargained.
Kniffen cautioned that changes to the high school day “can’t come at the expense of our youngest students, and we can’t dismiss [needs of] our staff.”
She argued that rolling a change out over a few years might also be a solution.
Glen DiGravio asked if the teacher’s union has been brought into the discussion. Szymaniak said the district and committee have a good relationship with the union, and advance information that there is a wish to negotiate would be helpful.
WHEA representative Cindy Magahan said it was asked at the beginning of the year that the decision not be paced on the backs of association members, “and here we are.”
“You had months to talk about this and ask the Association to deal with this a matter of weeks before school is getting out is wrong, and we would have a better time selling this to the members …if we had that elementary uniform [start] time.’
Assistant Superintendent George Ferro also noted that the district’s perspective was to approach the change as a way to align the elementary schools, for help with staff coordination and professional development.
“The key in this is a no-cost option,” he said.
Scriven asked if some kind of staggard implementation could help families or staff planning around the impact of day care changes.
“Considering how things are and have been with budget implications, I think if we could roll it out over time, and lessen the immediate impact, that’s kind of where I’m coming at it,” he said.
Byers said she sees movement in the right direction if the intent is to provide equity, but she pointed to the transportation costs, including driver availability as problems standing in the way.