November 24, 2014 -- At last Tuesday evening's Board of Education meeting, the seven School Board Trustees and Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick discussed the advantages and obstacles to having a later start time for high school students.
Prior to the meeting the board members had already received studies concerning the sleep needs of teenagers and the impact of later start times on student performance, as well as two possible scenarios for making the change at the high school. While all appeared to accept the conclusions made by researchers that academic performance improves with later start times, there was some disagreement over whether or not to move forward with studying the logistics of such a change, and whether North Shore ought to act independently or work with other districts on the issue.
Dr. Melnick opened the discussion explaining that North Shore High School falls pretty much in the middle with regard to school start times across the county, with some high schools starting as early as 7:25 am and one, Jericho, starting the latest - at 9 am. Jericho, he said, has two "X" periods before school, with the first beginning at 7:30 am, for club meetings, and the second for extra-help sessions.
The Superintendent presented two scenarios for having a later start time at the high school. One would be to just simply move the high school start time later. That would require additional busing, imposing a significant expense on the district, he said. The most cost effective way, he explained, would be to flip the Middle and High School start times with the elementary schools which would give high school students an extra 20 to 25 minutes of sleep. It was unclear whether there would be any additional cost for that option, as it did not appear to require additional buses or drivers. He said to "be revolutionary" and begin as late as 10 am, would require athletics to be held in the morning which would not be doable at this point as it would require all districts in Nassau County to change their schedules.
Dr. Melnick remarked that he did not believe there were a lot of options, "other than encouraging kids to go to bed earlier."
Trustee Nightengale, said that he did not think that "20 minutes or half-an- hour would make much of a difference." He continued that "if there was a real plan that made an hour difference" it might be worth incurring the extra cost, but not for 20 or 25 minutes.
Trustee Marianne Russo said she believed that a 20 minute difference would not make much of difference for students but would be an imposition on working parents with regard to their schedules. She said that she doesn't like to leave for work until she knows her child is at the high school, and the 8:06 start time enables her to do that, or if she needs to catch an 8:05 train to the city if she has a meeting, she knows she can drop her child off at school on the way to the station. She said its different for elementary school students because "you can put them in day care in the morning."
Trustee Sara Jones, who originally had suggested looking into having a later start time, thanked Dr. Melnick for providing the research, and said that the studies showed that even 30 minutes resulted in improved academic performance as well as feeling less stress. She said she believed that a determination should be made as to whether it would in fact be beneficial to students to have a later start time, and then study the best way of getting there.
Trustee Toni Labatte said she was disappointed that flipping the elementary and middle school schedules would only result in a 20 minute later start time. "I don't see 20 minutes making that big of a difference," she commented, but suggested the district could look at the number of students who would be affected by having to come in early for certain activities, if that route were to be taken.
Trustee Russo said she believed that early morning rehearsals for IB music students would complicate matters.
Dr. Berliner said the he believed a later start time would be too costly. It was unclear which of the two scenarios he was referring to, but it appeared to be the one in which the elementary schools start time would not be flipped with the middle and high school times.
Trustee Jones questioned whether the options being discussed were the only ones available. She said Roslyn has an 8 a.m. start time, but that all activities are after-school so that students are never required to come in early. She again reiterated that she believed the board should first decide whether the research is persuasive, and then consider what to do about it.
Dr. Melnick responded to Trustee Jones' comment regarding Roslyn, saying that North Shore was unique because large number of students are involved in both arts and athletics and following the Roslyn model would present a challenge as it would force students to choose between one or the other. Ideally he said, it would "probably make more sense to go from 10 o'clock to 5 o'clock," but that would need to be looked at county-wide because of interscholastic athletics. He suggested that the Board look at the issue in conjunction with other districts, rather than just looking at North Shore.
Trustee Russo said that she agreed with the broader county-wide approach.
Dr. Berliner said the issue should be discussed among the Nassau County Superintendent's organization, and then, if there is support, to use the Legislative Action Committee to work with other districts.
Several parents addressed the issue during the public comment period. One suggested extending the school day, and allowing for a "cat nap" period, just as some corporations, like Google, integrate into their employees' workday.
Another parent said that she supported a later start time, and that it might be unrealistic to attempt to put teenagers to bed earlier as they "are wired to stay up late," and that going through the Nassau County Superintendents' group seemed to be pushing the issue aside. She remarked that while North Shore may not want to follow the Roslyn and Jericho models, it would at least be worth it investigate the issue further - to see how other districts have done it, before deciding that such a change can only be done through reforms at the county level.
Dr. Melnick replied that interscholastic athletics made it difficult to have a significantly later start time and that he believed it was an issue that could be addressed at the county level.
Another resident said that she also supported a later start time at the high school. Citing her own family as an example, she said younger children are often up and ready to go early in the morning and that flip-flopping with the high school and middle school would perhaps be better for both age groups.
The student government representative, Paulina Calcaterra, said that she would bring it to the SGO to get their input. She noted that athletics are immediately after school, while music programs are later in the evening and that she believed eliminating the gap between the two would not enable students enough time to get other things done. She said the homework issue ought to be addressed in the conversation, as students often find themselves making the choice between getting sleep and spending more time on homework.
Dr. Melnick said that he would welcome feedback from the student government.