School Start & End Times
As part of our mission to provide a world-class education for every child, NCPS continuously explores ways to improve the student experience at each of the district's five schools. As a result, we have been engaged in a process of researching and understanding the connections between school start and end times and student health and wellness. As this investigation evolved, the Board of Education committed to a goal focused on developing recommendations regarding school start and end times and understanding the related implications of these recommendations.
The New Canaan Public Schools are committed to doing all that we can to create the conditions for students to thrive and excel in our schools. Over the past several years, it has been reported locally and nationally that students are experiencing a high degree of pressure and stress, and New Canaan's students are not immune. While school start/end times are not a "solution" to the pressures and stress that our students are experiencing, we believe that a change, developed and implemented as part of a comprehensive solution and focused on student health and wellness, could be beneficial and is therefore worth exploring.
The following email was sent to parents and community members on 1/21/2020
Dear Parents and Community Members,
As you are likely aware, the Board of Education has been engaged in the process of examining the start and end times at each of the district’s five schools. The genesis of this work was the growing body of research supporting later school start times for adolescents, along with the recommendations for an 8:30 or later start time for this age group from the Center for Disease Control (Schools Start Too Early), American Academy of Pediatrics (School Start Times for Adolescents), American Medical Association (AMA Supports Delayed School Start Times to improve Adolescent Wellness), American Academy of Sleep Medicine (Delaying Middle School and High School Start Times Promotes Student Health and Performance), and other organizations focused on adolescent and public health and wellness.
Since this research began, the district has made a concerted effort to establish ongoing, two-way communication with all stakeholders throughout the community. These efforts have included developing a website, hosting focus groups (10/2018 & 10/2019), administering two town-wide surveys (May 2018 & June 2019), working with a consultant to understand the opportunities and constraints in our transportation system (BOE 11/19/2018), holding two public hearings (11/2018 & 1/2020), commissioning a traffic study, and providing monthly updates at regular Board of Education meetings. In addition, the Board has held several workshops with the administration to learn about the issue and to consider various scenarios, and school start times/student wellness have been an ongoing focus for the district leadership team since this work began in 2017
Last night, after careful consideration, the Board of Education adopted its budget for 2020-2021. This budget, representing a 1.47% overall increase year over year, includes funding to implement new start and end times at each of the district’s schools in the upcoming year. Having researched the issue, the BOE expressed its conviction that aligning school start times to optimize student learning and wellness is the right thing to do, and they committed to doing so on our student’s behalf.
At the meeting, the Board shared their gratitude for the many parents who have been engaged throughout this process. In the course of this discussion and in response to community feedback, the Board requested that the administration develop a modified version of Scenario A for consideration at its February 3, 2020 meeting. This request stemmed from the many heartfelt comments from parents who are concerned about the 7:45 start time for our youngest children. While Scenario A remains a compelling and viable option for our schools, the Board honors and values the public’s input throughout the process, and as a result has asked to see a scenario modifying the K-6 start times as Scenario B.
As you may recall, Scenario A is a three-tier system, with the elementary schools grouped on the first tier, grades 7-12 on the second tier, and 5-6 on the third tier (click here to see the letter sent home explaining the scenario on 1/7/2020). In summary, the times for this scenario are:
East, South, & West Elementary
Saxe Upper Division (7/8)
Saxe Lower Division (5/6)
The modified scenario, Scenario B, maintains a three-tier structure, places Saxe Lower Division Students (5/6) on the 7:45 AM tier, keeps 7-12 on the 8:30 tier, and moves the three elementary schools to the 9:15 tier, as you can see below:
Saxe Lower Division (5/6)
Saxe Upper Division (7/8)
East, South, West Elementary Schools
Given the many variables and constraints when configuring transportation systems, these times must be considered approximate until the modeling is complete. In essence, our 125+ miles of roads, our almost ubiquitous 25 MPH speed limits, and the southern location of our schools all contribute to the need for a minimum of 45 minutes between each tier. Over the next two weeks, we will be working to develop a model of Scenario B, and at the upcoming Board of Education meeting we will share our findings, discuss both scenarios, and look for the Board to provide direction on which scenario they feel is best for the New Canaan Public Schools.
If you would like to learn more, please visit our “School Start and End Times” website, which will be updated as this work progresses.
At the Board meeting on 1/21 a question arose about the “two-tier” model and whether it should also be part of the Board’s final consideration. While on its surface this may appear to be worthwhile, there are several limitations to this model that make it less desirable than Scenario A or Scenario B above. One primary constraint is the limitation of the Saxe Middle School’s bus staging areas. Since the footprint at Saxe Middle School cannot accommodate one arrival or dismissal for grades 5-8, we must run the building as two schools, an “upper division” and a “lower division.” In a two-tier system, one division must be on each tier. Consequently, the elementary schools cannot be on the same tier. Additionally, a two-tier system places approximately 50% more buses on the roads during a condensed time frame, which would cause traffic delays throughout town and result in needing 60 minutes between the tiers. When looking at these two constraints together, it becomes clear that in order to align with research and recommendations the first tier would run 8:30-3:00, placing the second tier from 9:30 – 4:00. Furthermore, our elementary schools would be an hour apart, which would likely cause unanticipated consequences. For these and other reasons, after careful study, the administration does not recommend consideration of a two-tier approach because we do not believe it would be good for our students, our schools, or our community.
Over the course of the next two weeks, the administration will be developing Scenario B for the Board’s consideration at its next meeting. Given the need for families and others to plan, we anticipate that the Board will provide direction at its next meeting by identifying a preferred scenario. Once a scenario is identified, we will be establishing an implementation committee to identify and seek to resolve any challenges, and to capitalize on any opportunities, the new scenario presents.
In the next few days, we will be developing and administering a survey to gather more feedback about these two scenarios for consideration. The survey will be brief, yet will help the Board in its deliberations and discussions. In the meantime, if you have any feedback you would like to share, please feel free to contact me and/or the Board via email anytime.
The New Canaan Public Schools have a long tradition of partnering with the community on behalf of our students, and the thoughtful, inclusive, and thorough process the district has used throughout this 2 ½ year analysis is another example of our strong and successful relationship. We look forward to our continued partnership in the months and years ahead as we continue to identify and implement strategies to benefit the whole child in order to enhance and improve the educational experience for all of our students.
Bryan Luizzi, Ed. D.
Superintendent of Schools
New Canaan Public Schools
The following email was sent to parents and community members on January 7, 2020:
Dear Parents and Community Members,
Last night, I had the honor of presenting to the Board of Education the Superintendent’s 2020-21 Budget Proposal, which represents a 1.47% increase over this year’s budget. School district budgets are complex and multifaceted, and if you would like to learn more I encourage you to view last night’s BOE presentation (https://youtu.be/mdTNYgNYW8U) and to review the Budget document in its entirety at (https://www.ncps-k12.org/Page/6364). These resources will be updated regularly throughout the budget cycle, and we hope you find them useful and informative.
While there are many notable items in this year’s budget request, I am writing to share an update on one item in particular, the student wellness initiative focused on school start and end times. As you may be aware, the Board has been engaged in learning about the connections between sleep, school start and end times, and student wellness for the past few years, and has a website devoted to sharing this work with the community (https://www.ncps-k12.org/Page/6098). After thorough discussion and careful consideration, including multiple community-wide surveys, focus groups, and a public hearing, and after receiving guidance from the Board of Education throughout the process, the Superintendent’s Budget Proposal for 2020-2021 includes funding for the following scenario:
Saxe Upper Division (7/8)
Saxe Lower Division (5/6)
As we developed this scenario, we focused on aligning school schedules in order to optimize student learning. By alignment, we are referring to the alignment of the three elementary schools, the alignment of grades 7-12 with research and recommendations from major medical groups (CDC, CDC; American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry; American Academy of Pediatrics; AMA; American Psychological Assoc.; National Educators Assoc.; National Assoc. of School Nurses; National Sleep Foundation; National Parent Teacher Assoc., and others), and the alignment of our elementary tier with the feedback from our educational professionals, who consistently shared that elementary students learn best in the morning, and that late afternoon instructional time was disadvantageous for this age group. Importantly, in this scenario, the earliest elementary student pick-up is 7:06 AM, and the majority of students are picked up after 7:23 AM (tier 1). Furthermore, in the afternoon, the majority of students in grades 5-6 (tier 3) will arrive home by 4:10 PM., and all bus runs are completed by 4:30PM.
The challenges with making such a change loom large; however, given the research the District and Board have conducted over the past years, bringing a new model of school start and end times forward in this year’s Superintendent’s Budget is the right thing to do on behalf of our students and the community. The constraints we’ve worked through include the geographical size of New Canaan (125+ miles of roads), the location of our schools (grouped in Southern NC), the speed limits on our roads (most are 25 MPH), and the traffic conditions that buses contend with each day. Working within these constraints, we have developed this scenario for consideration in the budget process.
There are resource needs associated with changing school start times. In particular, additional staff are required (1 certified and 2 non-certified), as are seven (7) additional buses. The Superintendent’s Budget Proposal includes these costs in arriving at its 1.47% overall change year to year.
Over the next two weeks, the Board of Education will continue to deliberate the issue of school start times. Ultimately, a decision by the Board whether or not to fund the change in next year’s budget will be made at its meeting on January 21, when the Board adopts the Superintendent’s Budget as its own. To help inform its decision, the Board invites feedback from interested parents and community members, and is offering several opportunities for dialogue and comment. This morning, the elementary PTCs hosted a discussion forum focused on the budget and school start times. Next week, a public hearing focused on school start times has been scheduled for Monday, January 13, at 7:00 in the Wagner Room. Additionally, the budget and school start times will be discussed at a meeting of the Saxe PTC and high school PFA in the Wagner Room on Wednesday, January 15 at 9:30 AM. Furthermore, at regular Board of Education meetings, community members are invited to speak at the beginning and the conclusion of each meeting to share their views on this and other topics.
The New Canaan Public Schools are committed to doing all that we can on behalf of the students in our care. Throughout the course of this multi-year study, we have committed to balancing thoroughness with urgency, and to ensuring that any scenario brought forth for consideration be clearly communicated, carefully analyzed, and thoroughly vetted. As the budget process moves forward over the next two weeks, we encourage you to share your thoughts and feedback on this and any other element of the Superintendent’s Budget Proposal, in person at one of the above venues or electronically anytime.
Thank you for your interest in and support of the New Canaan Public Schools!
From the beginning, the district has taken a thoughtful and strategic approach to investigating this topic, such as:
- Attending conferences in Washington, DC, Hartford, and elsewhere
- Speaking to others involved in similar reviews, including those who have made a change and those who have chosen not to make a change
- Reviewing the research in support of a change
- Holding a meeting with internal stakeholders to share research and generate items for consideration
- Partnering with Hanover Research, who assisted a neighboring district with their recent change, to perform research and administer a stakeholder survey
- Partnering with Transportation Advisory Services (TAS) to develop options for Board and community discussions and to perform a transportation study
- Conducting feasibility routing analyses of the various options and outlining implementation strategies with the district's bus contractor
- Organizing a focus group discussion with teachers, building administrators, BOE members, district administrators, parents, and members of the Healthy School Start Times New Canaan to identify guiding principles and other considerations from the various perspectives
- Meeting with faculty and staff at all five buildings to share scenarios developed by TAS, receive feedback, and open lines of communication
- Meeting with union leaders of New Canaan's six employee unions to share findings from the study and open lines of communication
Throughout the process, the anticipated benefits of a change, the challenges of making a change, the complexity of the New Canaan school system, and the many considerations that must be accounted for in weighing a change continue to factor into the discussions and planning. Some of the areas of focus and related considerations include:
- Research on the relationship between adolescent student sleep patterns and school start times
- A growing body of research suggests:
- A significant number of American teenagers experience detrimental pressure and stress in their daily lives
- Many teenagers are not getting the recommended amount of sleep (8-10 hours/night)
- Sleep deprivation in teens negatively impacts emotional intelligence and contributes to increased feelings of pressure and stress, poor decision-making, difficulties with learning, and challenges with executive functioning
- This same research suggests that later start times for adolescent students can help them get more sleep, thereby strengthening their emotional intelligence and helping with decision-making, learning, and executive functioning
- A growing body of research suggests:
- A dearth of formal research related to student start/end times for younger students leads us to consider anecdotal feedback from staff working with these students
- Elementary faculty and staff report that late afternoon times (after 3:00) are not conducive to young student learning, and that early dismissals are disruptive to the classrooms
- Middle school (upper division) faculty and staff report that 7-8 grade students appear tired in the morning
- New Canaan students at all grade levels are highly involved participants in extra-curricular activities
- Over 70% of NCHS student participate on one or more teams each year in our athletics program
- 100's of students participate annually in the Visual and Performing Arts programs (drama, chorus, orchestra, band, etc.) at the middle and high school
- Middle-level and elementary students widely participate in town-sponsored athletic and other activities, and often share facilities with school-based programs by utilizing them afterwards (i.e... fields, classrooms, auditoriums, etc.)
- To be successful, any proposed change must be operationalized by the district. Therefore, the current 3-tier bus system must be understood and reviewed to identify opportunities for change
- The current system is "highly efficient" according to TAS; therefore, there are no meaningful opportunities within the system to generate additional time for students
- Our current 3-tier system is grouped as follows:
- Tier 1: NCHS & Saxe 7-8 (7:30 - 2:05)
- Tier 2: Saxe 5-6 and South (8:15 - 2:50)
- Tier 3: East and West (9:05 - 3:35)
- School start and end times are primarily driven by the time it takes all buses to bring students home at the end of the day and return to the next school at dismissal
- The school district currently contracts enough buses to support the existing 3-tier system. The current system is highly efficient and without excess capacity
- Additional buses are approximately $100,000 each / year
- Significant changes to the current 3-tier system requires additional buses
The district is committed to doing all that it can on behalf of the students in our care, and we are dedicated to completing this research and study balancing thoroughness with urgency to ensure that any recommended change meets the stated need of adjusting adolescent start times while avoiding negative consequences for students, staff, and the entire New Canaan community.