Wilmington To Seriously Look At Changing Start Times For Its Schools

WILMINGTON, MA — At Wednesday night’s meeting, the Wilmington School Committee gave Superintendent Glenn Brand the “green light” to begin the process of evaluating the district’s school start times.

“One of the prominent areas of concern that I have heard from many over the course of the last few months pertains to the current school start times across our district,” said Brand. “It seems clear that there are widely held views by many throughout our community that attention needs to be given to examining the current start times of our schools.”

“The current start times at our secondary schools are considered by many as extremely early and at odds with what research identifies as appropriate for young adolescent students,” Brand wrote in a memo to the School Committee. “Additionally, there is a wide spread of start and end times across the district which are problematic for a number of reasons.”

Brand also noted that Wilmington is “falling out of step” with many Middlesex Valley League districts who have made recent changes to their start time. Examples include: Arlington High (8am start); Melrose High (8:15am start); Watertown & Winchester High (8:30am start); and Burlington High (8:35am start).

“Our district was preparing to embark upon a study of the current start times in the fall of 2016 in an effort to keep pace with the commitment that Wilmington Public Schools made in concert with the Middlesex Valley League Superintendents at that time,” explained Brand. “The launch of this work never took place given the challenges that the district faced at the time…. It is my recommendation that we establish a plan to resume our commitment to examine our current start times with an eye toward making adjustments that bring our district closer-in-line with the research community has identified as more appropriate to support the overall well-being of our children.”

Brand cautioned that this work will be “challenging, require time, and quite likely, may require some degree of additional financial resources.”

Details Of The Plan

Brand proposed the following timeline, stressing changes – if any – wouldn’t take place until the start of the 2021-2022 school year.:

  • September 2019: Outreach to the community to solicit volunteers for the Start Time Committee
  • Fall 2019-Spring 2020: Start Time Committee work
  • May/June 2020: Report & Recommendations presented to the School Committee
  • Late Fall 2020: School Committee votes any changes to the school schedules and transportation routing
  • Fall 2021: Schedule and/or transportation routing changes to into effect

The Start Time Committee would consist of 6 staff members (2: elementary, 2: middle; 2: high); 6 parents/guardians (2: elementary, 2: middle, 2: high); 2 high school students; 2 School Committee members; 2 school building administrators; 2 Central Office Leadership Team members; the Athletic Director; and the CARES Program Director.

The Start Time Committee would focus on three areas:

  • Research & Education: gather information regarding the contemporary research around start time and insight into surrounding school districts that have made changes to their start times. This area will also articulate the key issues and considerations connected with changing school start times.
  • Communications & Outreach: disseminate information and progress of the committee that will include planning, developing and overseeing the committee’s outreach which will gather feedback, opinions and perspectives regarding options developed.
  • Scenario & Option Development: work closely with the transportation department and bus company to develop start time scenarios and options district-wide

Brand noted that in a previous district he worked at, he led a year-long effort to evaluate and change school start times.

“I have some insight in terms of knowing this is a large endeavor. Once you start to get into the considerations, it’s complex and there’s lots to do,” said Brand. “I need to press play again in our district’s effort to explore changing our start times. They’re quite early, especially at the Middle School (7:20am).”

School Committee Feedback

“We’re all aware this isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. There’s a lot of work and consideration,” said School Committee Chair Julie Broussard. “We can’t make any assumptions — that’s not fair to our kids. It’s important to do the work. Let’s tak our time and do it the right way.”

“This timeline looks realistic and speaks to the magnitude of the task,” said School Committee member David Ragsdale. “It’s very easy to see the disruption changes would cause, but it’s much harder to see the costs we’re paying now. The research is very, very clear. Over and over again, we find that the secondary student’s sleep deficiencies are really having an affect on them. There are costs [with the current start times] being born now that aren’t as visible, but are very real.”

School Committee member MJ Byrnes said she was concerned with what potential changes would have the CARES before and after school programs. She also did not want to see the district have to implement any sort of busing fees.

School Committee member Steve Bjork asked what challenges will the School Start Time Committee face.

Brand stressed that the Committee must wage a campaign to educate the community to get buy-in from all stakeholders. He also noted that the Committee will be faced with many “trade-offs.” For example, if the high school and middle school start their days later, the lower schools may have to start their days earlier.  (“There’s generally a flip flop.”) Brand also listed potential issues surrounding transportation costs (additional buses may be needed), enforcement of the district’s transportation policy (the district is currently busing many students that technically live close enough to their school that the district isn’t required to bus them), staff contracts, athletics, and childcare.

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