2016-01-14 / Front Page

Later Start Considered for Rogers

By James Merolla

“It’s no secret that teenagers like to sleep in the morning,” said Newport School Committee member Robert Leary. And with that, citing national research, he proposed a motion to study whether the city should start classes at Rogers High School an hour or so later.

At a committee meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, Leary said there have been 3,034 tardy incidents in the schools since the beginning of the academic year, with 749 at Rogers.

“There are a lot of days when you think about it,” said Leary. “There are a tremendous amount of kids. This is something we should look at.”

Committee chair Jo Eva Gaines urged caution. She cited a similar change due to take effect in Barrington in September. Officials there, also moved by research and recommendations indicating that students do better academically if they begin classes later, decided to start high school homeroom around 8:30 a.m., instead of the current 7:40 a.m.

“We don’t want to do what Barrington did,” said Gaines. “Barrington did not involve the community in the discussion and they did not involve the kids and they are up in arms now. We should look at this, [but] I don’t know if we will do anything about it.”

According to a report last week in The Providence Journal, the 3-2 vote was cast by the Barrington School Committee following four years of “researching and debating.” Supporters of the change, which include school superintendent Michael Messore and School Committee chair Kate Brody, felt that the promises of better rested, more attentive, focused children far outweighed any of the negatives. “I did not feel [the] status quo was in the interest of our students,” Messore, a long-time educator, said. “I don’t think anyone would disagree with the fact that we need to pay attention to sleep issues.” Brody told the Journal she saw it as “an exciting opportunity,” and based on the vast amount of highly documented research, “an educationally sound decision.”

Barrington is the second town opting to push back the morning bell following a 3-2 vote by its School Committee. Last year, East Greenwich, often linked with Barrington as the two top-performing public school districts in Rhode Island, made the same call.

North Kingstown and other localities are also studying the issue. Barrington spent four years in debate over the move, and their decision is now facing scrutiny from various fronts–students, teachers and parents–who felt they weren’t completely heard. Costs are also involved with such a change.

If battle lines are drawn in Newport, they may revolve around money, and how that will play out around the table of the School Committee remains to be seen.

“They [Barrington] are not an island,” said Gaines. “They have to interact with other districts. It increased Barrington’s [bus] budget by $400,000.” Committee member Rebecca Bolan said the Newport district was about to sign a new bus contract and she thought this might be an opportune time to look at any savings such a change might bring. Or the opposite.

Christie Cykert, head of the Science Department at Rogers, said that when principal Jeffrey Goss increased tardiness penalties this year, attendance at her first period class shot up. “It has made a huge, huge difference.”

Committee member Sandra Flowers suggested a cost-benefit analysis. “I’d be willing to see how the research here in Newport works before we jump the gun,” she offered.

Gaines proposed setting up a subcommittee to study the issue, which passed unanimously.

Committee members also tended to some administrative matters. Gaines was again selected to lead as chair in 2016. In making the nomination, her colleague Kathleen Siliva said, “I think [Gaines] has her finger on the pulse of education in Newport and the state. I think she has done an excellent job.”

“I want to thank you for your confidence,” said Gaines. “I will do my best…It took a long time turning this ship, but I do believe we are on our way to smooth and peaceful waters.”

David Hanos Jr. was once again voted to the vice chairmanship. “I am humbled by the position, thank you,” said Hanos.

The leadership votes were unanimous at 6-0, with committee member Robert Leary absent during that portion of the meeting.

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