2016-03-10 / Around Town

School Start Times Under Discussion

By Barry Bridges

There are many issues that would have to be resolved before the start time at Rogers High School could shift from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.

Logistics on bus schedules, school breakfasts, before- and after school care, afternoon sports programs, and out-of-district students coming into Newport are among the things that would have to be analyzed, in addition to changes in home and parenting routines.

The complexity of orchestrating the various pieces was the takeaway from a workshop held on Thursday, March 3, to consider the possibility of changing the hours at Rogers consistent with studies showing that later start times can improve the academic performance of high schoolers.

Rogers Principal Jeffrey Goss moderated the discussion as the group of about 25 teachers, parents, and School Committee members brainstormed the issues that would be involved in such a change.

A big stumbling block is that a change in the start time at Rogers would impact the other Newport schools. The district’s three schools are served by the same 14 buses, and therefore morning bells have to be staggered.

Presently, the Rogers school day is the first to start at 7:30 a.m. Buses drop off students there and then proceed to Thompson Middle School, where the opening bell sounds at 8:00 a.m. They then head to Pell Elementary for its 8:30 a.m. start.

The prospect of changing start time elsewhere did not sit well with some parents.

“If Pell starts at nine, it makes it hard for working parents,” said a Newporter in attendance. “And Pell students are the most dependent on caregivers. We have to be really careful what we do there.”

“A better option is not touching Pell,” agreed another. “Just move the Thompson time, because those students can get themselves to the bus stop on their own.”

Under Rhode Island law, public school buses also have to transport private school students to their campuses, but School Committee member Robert Leary said that the district has the flexibility to work with private schools on establishing reasonable start times.

Leary also reminded attendees that the current contract for bus services ends this year. “So it’s important to start the conversation [on any changes] now,” he said. “[The decision] doesn’t have to be made by September, as long as you leave the contract open to that possibility.”

Goss emphasized that the point of moving the start time would be to improve student performance, not necessarily to decrease tardiness. Leary reported that there were 3,034 incidents of tardiness at Rogers in the first 70 days of this academic year.

“Some people thought it might cut down on tardiness,” said Goss, “but I’m not in that boat myself. From my standpoint, it’s more about the academics for high school students. Some are like walking zombies at 7:30.”

“My focus is more on academics and the state of mind of high school kids,” he added. “As with everything, I like to think about how it affects the students.”

Jennifer Taylor, who has two children at Rogers, said, “I did research, and every study comes out and supports delayed start times for high schools. The science behind it goes into the quality and range of sleep. Developmentally it helps them to be healthier people. We need to optimize their school experience, and I’d like us to continue to have this discussion.”

Newporter Kate Dusel suggested a compromise, starting 15 minutes earlier at Thompson at 7:45 a.m.; Rogers at 8:15 a.m., thus giving a 45-minute later start; and Pell 15 minutes later at 8:45 a.m.

“This would be a very small change [at Thompson and Pell] that would be friendlier to families,” she said. She further suggested that the bus companies give the district a more definitive answer on how much time is needed to shuttle students between schools.

The workshop was a preliminary look at some of the questions that need to be addressed, and Goss suggested that a presentation to the School Committee would be a logical next step.

“But there is no rush, per se,” he said. “This could be at the start of the 2016-17 school year, or something explored for 2017-18.”

Return to top