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 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.