Meeting Notes - October 17, 2017

The major agenda item for the board meeting tonight was the following motion:

“That the GECDSB pilot a secondary school with later bell time for the 2018/19 school year.”

Like many of my colleagues, I found this to be an interesting idea deserving of consideration.

Trustee Buckler provided us with newspaper articles summarizing scientific research as well as some opinion pieces advocating for later bell times at the start of the school day. The gist is that as children become teenagers, they not only need more sleep, their sleep cycle shifts to later in the day. Meaning, they naturally wake later and stay up later. Thus, it seems intuitive that the board would consider later bell times to give students the best conditions possible to succeed.

The debate mostly focused on questions about what the actual research says and not second hand interpretations of the research findings, as well as what is possible for our board, considering logistics and the times at which most schools currently start the school day in our board. Therefore, it was deemed necessary for administration to come back with a report rather than jump into a pilot implementation in September of 2018. The motion was amended accordingly.

Indeed, this is a more complex issue than it would first appear. Much of the research being cited was conducted in the United States and suggested that students starting school before 7:30am may be better positioned to succeed if they started a half hour later. I have compiled information about our 2017/18 start times in the table below. None of our high schools currently start before 8:00. If time of day is a factor, it is necessary to understand what the optimal time of day is. The articles we were provided seemed to have a general suggestion of not to start before 8:00. We don’t.

School

Bell Time

School

Bell Time

Belle River                    

8:15

P.A.S.S.

8:59

Essex District

8:15

Riverside

8:20

General Amherst

8:20

Sandwich

8:15

Herman

8:20

Tecumseh Vista

8:15

Kennedy

8:40

Walkerville

9:00

Kingsville

8:10

Western

8:00

Leamington

8:15

Westview

8:21

Massey

8:46

NA

NA

 

On the other hand, if the issue is simply shifting to a later start time from any current start time, I wonder, then, if the impact is more short-term than long-term, simply because we all feel a little better when we have sleep-in days. I am curious if the effects are sustained once it becomes routine.

The other important issue is logistics. Is it something that we can reasonably pull off? Or, is it something that we will work to make happen because we believe the positive impacts on student outcomes are too strong not to? And, how do we choose what school? 

Logistics include impacts on students, teachers and custodial staff, and parents. The effects on bussing will need to be considered, particularly because we share a program with our coterminous board. One of our student trustees discussed the issue at Student Senate. He indicated that student leaders were divided. Some of the concerns included the timing of before and after school clubs, cross-school events, after-school jobs, and time available for homework in the evening. The impacts on teachers and custodial staffing need to be considered as well. School schedules are fine-tuned as they are. If one school has a completely outlying start time from all others, this may create scheduling challenges. Staff may have their own families and younger children to see off to school before coming to work, and I know teachers spend much of their evening marking and planning for the next day amidst spending quality time with family. I would not want to cause any detriments to them. Finally, parents may be affected. They may rely on their older kids to pick up younger siblings from school or watch them after school until parents get home from work. There may be many other factors to be considered and these are just a few that immediately come to my mind.

I am looking forward to administration’s report when we can make an informed decision. I plan to look for some original research on my own as well. So far I have found a policy brief suggesting that later start times may benefit disadvantaged students, but adversely affect other students in different subject areas. This same brief also shows evidence that later start times may not only have an impact on academic outcomes, but on other important factors such as better attendance and reduced likelihood of suspension. In addition, this article from Keller et al. (2015, p. 242) in the Journal of Educational Psychology indicated that delayed start times in later school years often comes at the "expense of making elementary school start times earlier". Indeed, this is not a simple matter and our decision must be made carefully. I do believe we need to take some time to allow for administration to report back. We also need to be consulting with the stakeholder groups I listed above who will be affected. Please feel free to leave me some feedback or give me a call with your thoughts and questions.

The next meeting is on November 7. This will be the final meeting of the Standing Committees of Education and Operations & Finance for the 2017 organization of trustee commitments. I have very much enjoyed chairing the Education Committee and carrying out our theme of “Educating the Whole Child”.

Jessica

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Jessica Sartori