By Andrea Paldy
What began as a lone parental voice during a Three Village school board meeting has blossomed into a movement.
Six months ago, Barbara Rosati, mother of a P.J. Gelinas Jr. High student, asked the board and district administration to consider changing the secondary school start times.
“We also would like to thank deeply our board of education for recognizing our concerns and listening to us and being the leaders that we were hoping you would be.”
— Barbara Rosati
Last week, following a presentation for a path toward meeting parents’ requests, the Three Village school board voted to institute a school start time committee to further investigate the viability of a later start time at the district’s high school.
Rosati, founder of It’s About Time: Three Village Parents for a Later Start Time, was grateful.
“I’d like to thank the administration,” she said. “We really appreciate it. We also would like to thank deeply our board of education for recognizing our concerns and listening to us and being the leaders that we were hoping you would be.”
Rosati, a research assistant professor in Stony Brook University’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the Renaissance School of Medicine, had organized parents and held information sessions about sleep deprivation in adolescents. In the months that followed her initial appeal, other parents, students, Ward Melville High School graduates and medical experts all appeared before the school board to express concern about early start times. More than 1,600 signatures were collected, letters were written to the school board and some advocates even traveled to a Start School Later workshop in Pennsylvania.
Chief among the concerns was the pervading sleep deprivation among teens. Research has shown that adolescent circadian rhythms make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. This results in a later sleep cycle interrupted by having to wake up for early classes. Not only does it prevent them from getting the required eight to 10 hours of sleep their growing bodies need, research indicates that it also means difficulty concentrating and puts them at risk for depression, injuries during sports and drowsiness while driving — among other issues.
These concerns prompted district Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich to form a working group of administrators to conduct a preliminary investigation into later start times. Pedisich also pointed to improved academic performance, higher test scores, better focus and self-regulation as additional reasons to look into the change.
The group began its preliminary investigation with certain assumptions in place, the superintendent said.
There would be no redistricting or closing of schools; no students would be at a bus stop earlier than 7 a.m.; and there would be no negative impact to athletics, which means that the high school could not end later than 3 p.m. The final assumption was that the district would continue to support and maintain cocurricular activities while also maintaining the required number of hours of instruction at all grade levels.
“I see the value in looking at this with open eyes.”
— Cheryl Pedisich
Pedisich and Jeff Carlson, deputy superintendent for business services, presented 10 possible scenarios that would move the Ward Melville start time from 7:05 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. with an ending time of 2:55 p.m. Additionally, in half of the configurations, start times at the two junior high schools, P.J. Gelinas and R. C. Murphy, would change to 9:10 a.m., with the day ending at 3:46 p.m.
To make a later start for Ward Melville possible, each period at the high school would be decreased from 41 minutes to 40, and the periods at the junior high would fall from 42 minutes to 41 — decreases that the deputy superintendent said would not “adversely impact the educational program,” but would assist with logistics.
The greater effect could be on student after-school activities or employment, since the school day would end later. The committee found that the time shift could affect students who take afternoon BOCES classes and possibly affect child care needs for staff. The preliminary investigation also found that some athletes might sometimes need to leave ninth period early.
The district currently has four bus runs — high school, followed by junior high, two elementary schools and then, finally, the last three elementary schools. The proposed scenarios would move the district from a four-tiered bus system to a three-tiered one and could affect the start times for the other schools.
The biggest variation in the scenarios was in start times at elementary schools and junior highs. In some projections, the elementary school day starts earlier and runs from 7:40 a.m. to 1:55 p.m. In others, the day runs from 9:25 a.m. to 3:40 p.m., which is the current schedule for the district’s late elementary schools.
When the elementary day starts early, the junior high day starts at 9:10 a.m., and in the scenarios where the elementary day starts after 9 a.m., the junior high schools start earlier, keeping their current start time of 7:35 a.m.
The most expensive transportation scenario moved the sixth grade up to junior high and ninth-graders to the high school. It required eight additional buses and 11 additional minibuses that could run the district about $1.5 million, Carlson said.
The projected cost of the proposed scenarios considered only transportation costs and did not take into account savings from staffing within the schools, Carlson said.
There could, however, be savings in other areas due to the restructuring of the junior and high schools, he added.
Carlson reiterated that these scenarios are just “a starting point to get people thinking and talking” and are not the only possibilities. It would be up to the new committee to further investigate and look into other solutions. The committee, which will meet in January, will be chaired by Pedisich and Carlson. It will be comprised of administrators, staff, parents and high school students and will determine a timeline once it gets underway, Pedisich said.
“I have to say that I see a lot of viability to this,” the superintendent said. “I see the value in looking at this with open eyes. I look forward to working with the committee and with Mr. Carlson as we begin to look at what the options are for our students, so that we can do the best that we can for them.”