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School Start-Time Debate Making a Return?

At least one parent and one Greenfield School Board member want to revisit changing Greenfield High School's start time more than a year after the board shot down such a move.

Dolores Skowronek acknowledged that Greenfield School Board members were probably tired of her coming back to them to talk about school start times.

But it’s a topic—specifically the high school’s start time of 7:10 a.m.—that Skowronek is passionate about and one she vowed she would not stop addressing until changes were made.

“You have to realize you cannot alter the behavior of the population of high school students that changes every single year,” Skowronek told School Board members and administrators Monday. “You can tell these kids that they need to have more personal responsibility. You can insist that they go to bed earlier. You can insist that they get up and get to school on time.

“But that will have little impact because you have no real control over what these kids or parents do outside of school. If you want to make a difference, you must focus on things that you actually have control over, like the high school start times.”

Skowronek, who is now on the executive board of a national coalition called Start School Later, said she was disturbed by the high school’s grade of 59.6 in student achievement on the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction preliminary report card released Monday.

That grade correlates to “meets few expectations,” as defined by the DPI.

Skowronek attributed the low score at least partially to the school’s early start time. She said during the 2011-12 school year, there were 9,671 documented instances of first-hour tardies at the high school.

“That’s 9,671 instances of students missing part of their first-hour class and 9,671 instances where first-hour classes were being disrupted by students,” she said. “Classes like algebra and English, core classes that are essential to student achievement.”

After months of debate, the Greenfield School Board voted not to change the district’s school start times in May 2011, citing the price tag of $208,000 for the new busing routes as the chief concern for not moving forward.

“What’s more important, a cost-saving policy that’s not working or the health, safety and academics of our children?” Skowronek asked.

Neither administrators nor board members could address Skowronek’s concerns directly because the topic was not on the agenda, but board member Cathy Walsh later asked that it be added to a future agenda.

During her brief hiatus from the board, Walsh was on a committee, along with Skowronek, that recommended to the board to change the school’s start times in 2011.

“I think it’s something we can’t ignore … I think we need to keep talking about that,” Walsh said. “Maybe we take a look at busing again and maybe we reduce busing. There could be other avenues if money is the deal, but I think it’s costing us big money.”

Kari O October 24, 2012 at 02:42 AM
This is an issue that's bubbling up around the country. There are petitions springing up in several states to start schools at 8 am or later, a recommendation based on sound science and in keeping with the way the rest of the working world runs. This is a more traditional starting time than the crazy-early times we've gone to because of transportation concerns, and it just makes sense.
Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D. October 24, 2012 at 03:02 AM
Greenfield is a very fortunate community to have someone like Dolores Skowronek willing to fight year after year for the health, safety, and welfare of children. She may not have a huge support group there, but she is hardly alone. As a health research librarian, Dolores is keenly aware that the research on this subject is crystal clear: in fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a health professional, sleep researcher, or educator familiar with the now extensive body of research on this subject who wouldn't agree that requiring children (and teenagers are still children) to make it to class at these times is both dangerous and counterproductive. Dolores is a genuine hero, and we at Start School Later are proud to have her on our team.
Phyllis Payne October 24, 2012 at 03:12 AM
The costs of the status quo are many, but are typically ignored because they are existing costs. I wonder how much money could be saved on remediation and the reduction in behavior problems (suspensions). What could be economically gained by the community by having higher student performance and fewer students who aren't graduating or aren't graduating on time? There are other costs to the community as well: increases in student depression (need for medication), car crashes caused by drowsy drivers, or doctor's visits because children get sick more often (sleep is important to healthy immune function).
Maribel Ibrahim October 24, 2012 at 03:51 AM
I find the picture to go with this article particularly poignant. Mrs. Skowronek has stood valiantly, and many times, alone, in the fight to educate her community about the proven detrimental effects of these absurdly early school start times. I take great pride in working with Dolores, who has become an ambassador for later school start times, both in Greenfield and beyond. She has helped influence community activism in Maryland, Texas, Florida and Washington, DC and beyond. It gives me great pride to know Mrs. Skowronek, both as a colleague and a friend. And, it pleases me no end that she will never have to fight this fight alone anymore. Regards, Maribel C. Ibrahim Co-Founder, Start School Later, Inc. www.StartSchoolLater.net
Lynn McDonnell Keefe October 24, 2012 at 01:49 PM
Leaders in education, such as Superintendents and School Board Members, are expected to incorporate research data in making progressive policy changes for their school districts. Research has proven that a high school start time after 8:30a.m. significantly improves academic and health outcomes for our teen students. The classroom environment affects learning. It costs money to heat the classrooms comfortably in Wisconsin, and it'll cost money to change the bus schedule to a later first period class start time. Temperature and time are both important and both worth funding. Greenfield School District teachers, parents, and students are fortunate to have Dolores Skowronek leading the effort to make this change. Academics and Health...nothing is more important for our teens.
robert heule October 24, 2012 at 04:00 PM
The change always failed on a 4 t0 3 vote. Please listen to Dolores, she has the evidence that the later starting time will benefit students as stated in the aforementioned posts. Additional negotiations with with the bus company are necessary. It is peculiar that year after year the board finds it "too costly" to change the schedules. Administrative staff reductions such as a "community relations" position can be eliminated.
Stacy Simera October 24, 2012 at 04:17 PM
If the school board is worried about money (and not about auto accidents, sports injuries, poor grades, decreased enrollment or obesity - all of which are associated with chronic sleep deprivation and early school start times) - then the board would be well served to note the Hamilton Project (Brookings Institution) report from Sep 2011 that projects a "conservative" benefit to cost ratio of 9 to 1 for delaying school start times: http://www.hamiltonproject.org/files/downloads_and_links/092011_organize_jacob_rockoff_paper.pdf
Todd Wilde October 24, 2012 at 05:08 PM
As the parent of a teenager with a cellphone and Facebook account I can tell you that starting school later is not the answer. What IS the answer?? It's parents monitoring their child's night time activities texting on cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, X-Box.......and the list goes on. Why are Kids tardy 1st, 2nd and 3rd hours??? Simple......They are NOT sleeping, because they are constantly on electronic devices. Look at any Facebook wall and you will see exactly when posts are being made. They are made at literally ALL hours of the night. Parents go to bed and their kids stay up all night! There is a much more simple and FREE solution to the tardiness issue.........make your kids go to bed at a reasonable hour! If you delay the start times it WILL NOT change the outcome because the tardiness problem is not related to the start time it's related to lack of adequate sleep!
robert heule October 24, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Todd, How do you know what is going on in each individual household ?
robert heule October 24, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I'd like to know what "special interest" groups who are championing early dismissal are fighting the later starting time. Please come forth with your side of the issue so the community can have an intelligent dialog.
Heather Macintosh October 25, 2012 at 12:01 AM
I hope this conversation can continue to take place without any one person shouting down the other participants. David, it's so great that you're passionate about this issue but I strongly disagree with your statement that this coalition of citizens who have studied the research carefully should have no "say so" in helping to bring this discussion to the school board.
Mary King October 25, 2012 at 12:54 AM
This "special interest" group is passionate about the health and safety of children. Many of us have a long history of advocating for later start times on a local level. We have witnessed the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on our own children and we know that pre-dawn start times are harmful and arbitrary. We certainly expect students AND adults to be responsible. This isn't about blaming students' lack of responsibility or bad parenting. In fact if the adults who put these schedules in place want to be responsible they should consider the mounting pile of research that supports later school start times. We wish your principal much success with the reforms he's devised and hope that your school sees vast improvements. But please don't discount the value of later school start times.
Dolores Skowronek October 25, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Young David, your comments implying that our community does not care about the research findings on early start times or adolescent sleep deprivation should upset me – but they don’t. While I am an advocate for later start times, I am also a mom and comments like yours make me sort of sad. Here’s why. The value of empirical evidence, research methodologies, and the critical analysis and application of information are all taught in our Greenfield schools. I know, because my children were taught to understand and value these from their Greenfield teachers. My kids, like many others who were educated in our schools, now have life skills that will enable them to make wise and informed decisions for many years to come. So, I find it sad when a student dismisses the value of good information. By no means does that represent what is taught in our schools or reflect the attitude of every parent and student living in our community.
Todd Wilde October 25, 2012 at 02:24 PM
Robert, all you have to do is observe any high school age students Facebook wall and look at what time posts are made. I start work at 5:00 am ( talk about an early start time right??) and if I look at any teenagersFacebook wall or his friends walls there are posts that were clearly made anywhere from 1 minute ago to 4 hours ago and that's relative to 5:00 am. Teenagers do not have a filter when it comes to social media, you can either directly read what is going on in their households or read between the lines!
Phyllis Payne October 25, 2012 at 02:37 PM
The prefrontal cortex of the brain is still developing in adolescents. This is the first part of the brain impacted by sleep loss. It is also the part of the brain responsible for executive function and decision-making. The research and what I have heard from teachers in districts that have changed their start times shows improvements in student behavior and fewer discipline problems in the schools -- a generally positive atmosphere. One of the teachers specifically mentioned that students were literally smiling, happier and more likely to participate in class.
Chris Kelnhofer October 25, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Whitnall adopted a later starting time this year and i have to say it helps. It's only 30 mins later but I can really notice the difference.
mr.chris a engel February 03, 2013 at 12:49 AM
lets invite the tardy students to transfer to Witnall with no cost to Greenfield

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