CAPITAL REGION — At least four Capital Region school districts this year are moving closer to delaying their high school start times, but actual scheduling changes appear unlikely to be ready by next fall.
Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr., who had previously said the district may be on track to change start times for the start of next school year, on Tuesday signaled no start time changes were likely in Niskayuna until the 2021-2022 school year at the earliest.
“I was very hopeful we would be able to do this in fall 2020,” Tangorra told the school board Tuesday. “[Now,] I’m less optimistic to the point of not optimistic at all.”
Shifting start times, especially at high schools, has received increasing attention in recent years as research has piled up showing that students in their teenage years would benefit from a little more time to sleep in the morning. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.
Guilderland, Bethlehem and East Greenbush school districts are all actively studying making start time changes as well, and district leaders have said if multiple districts moved to later start times at the same time it would ease some of the difficulties with scheduling athletic competitions and other activities between school districts.
The superintendents of those three districts have all said any changes to school start times likely wouldn’t go into effect until fall 2021 at the earliest. The districts have established various work groups to study start times and the cascade of complications shifting a start time by even just 30 minutes would have on the districts: changes in transportation, class and bell schedules, athletic practices and competitions and concerns among parents about shifting established family routines. The districts have all been studying whether and how to change start times for at least a year. But district leaders still say there is much work to do ironing out the details and logistics of a shift, while also understanding and addressing any concerns in the community.
“I think there is strong interest among many to make the change, but until people actually see what we are doing and what the implications are for them personally, I don’t have a good sense of where the community stands,” Guilderland Superintendent Marie Wiles said Wednesday. “When people say what is this going to mean for my morning routine, for my evening routine, that’s when you start to feel strongly one way or the other or neutral.”
Guilderland, which at 7:30 a.m. has one of the earliest high school start times in the region, enlisted the help of School Bus Consultants, a private firm, to help analyze different start time options and the busing schedules that would be needed to get students to school on time. Shifting the start time of high school affects the transportation operations for elementary and middle schools too. Wiles said she sees a path forward in the analysis but also said she wants to better understand how a start time change would impact traffic patterns. Now, the high school starts early enough that students arriving for school don’t overlap too much with the morning work commute; if it shifts the start time, traffic could get even worse along the town’s busy Western Avenue corridor.
“Now we have to see how it works on Western Avenue,” Wiles said of gauging the kind of impacts a high school start time change would have on the broader community.
The consultants’ analysis outlined options of the district to shift the high school start time to 8 a.m., 8:15 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.; the district’s middle school, which currently starts at 8:45 a.m., would move to as late as 9:25 a.m. under one of the various scenarios. The core of the analysis focuses on how to move transportation schedules to align with a changed school bell schedule.
Bethlehem also contracted with the same consultants for a study of its transportation and bus schedules, and Tangorra on Tuesday said he had requested the firm submit a proposal to conduct a similar study in Niskayuna.
In East Greenbush, parents have raised concerns about how changing the high school start time would affect the elementary and middle schools. The district’s current proposal would shift the high school start from 7:10 a.m., by far the earliest in the region, to 8:15 a.m. But the changes would shift the elementary schools to a start time of 7:30 a.m., which some parents said was too early.
“Based on the feedback that we’ve received, I think we have more work to do,” East Greenbush Superintendent Jeff Simons said last month at a public forum on school start times, according to a summary of the meeting posted by the district.
Shifting school start times would also have an impact on how districts interact with one another and how students access services and programs shared among multiple districts. BOCES programs that bring together students from multiple districts, for example,
“It would be easier for everyone,” Tangorra said of multiple districts changing start times at the same time.
In Niskayuna the discussion of start times has also run headlong into planning for a capital project slated for voter approval next December. A major undecided component of the project is whether the district shifts to a new school configuration – changing what grades occupy what buildings – which would require transportation and scheduling changes regardless of school start times.
Districts in the Capital Region like Schenectady and Glens Falls shifted to later high school start times years ago and have said after the initial hurdle of communicating the changes to families, the changes have benefited students.