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Schools: Panel wants more data on impact of later starts

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Members of a committee formed to look at changing the time public schools in Georgetown County start the day don’t agree whether there would be any benefit to starting class later in the morning, but they do want to get more information about the idea.

The committee of teachers, administrators, parents and business owners was created after School Board Chairman Jim Dumm said last month that reports he has seen about later school starts improving test results for high school students was worth further study. “My attitude at the get-go was let’s have a discussion,” Dumm said.

“It’s worthy of discussion,” said Mike Cafaro, the district’s director of student support services. He chairs the 36-member committee, which met for the first time with 22 members this week.

But from what he has read on the subject of teen sleeping patterns and school start times, “We’re lucky,” Cafaro said. “We could spend hours and hours looking at different starting times. We’re not that far off.”

High schools start as early as 7:40 a.m. (Carvers Bay) and as late as 7:58 a.m. (Waccamaw). Changing the start time 15 to 30 minutes could make a difference, he said.

Cafaro cited information from the National Sleep Foundation that teens need 9.25 hours of sleep each night. One study found that only 15 percent get 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights. Part of the reason is biological changes in sleep patterns.

“I’m not pointing blame, but somebody’s got to take charge in the house,” Cafaro said. “Don’t fill up on energy drinks at 8 or 9 o’clock.”

Later start times are shown to give teens an extra hour’s sleep, he said. Whether that translates into a better education is something that committee members want to know more about.

Board Member Pat DeLeone said she’s seen claims that test scores rose 3 to 4 percent with later start times.

Board Member Richard Kerr questioned whether scores were only due to the starting time or whether other factors were involved.

A North Carolina study in 2012 found a 1 to 2 percent rise in middle school scores following a change in school start times from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. “They seem to think it did” make a difference, Cafaro said.

Adam George, assistant principal at Andrews High, suggested the district look at data from its own students, such as how results compared between first period classes and second period classes.

Committee members raised other concerns. Changing high school start times would affect elementary and middle schools because they use the same buses. Some families drop students at school as early as 7 a.m. because the parents have to go to work, said Michelle Greene, principal at Andrews High.

If school starts later, working families will need to know their children have a way to get to school, said Brian Clark, principal at Andrews Elementary. More input is needed from parent-teacher groups and school improvement councils, committee members agreed.

Those who favored any change in start times said it should be as little as possible. “No more than 10 minutes,” said Norine Frasier, a teacher at Carvers Bay.

There was one student at the meeting, Vivian Wright, a fifth-grader at Pleasant Hill Elementary who was there with her mother. She listened to a small group discussion around a table in the school board’s meeting room and said she had an idea.

“There’s a solution for kids who are sleepy: Go to bed earlier,” Vivian said. “Teenagers want to party all night.”

Cafaro will take the results from the committee discussion to the school board next week. Celeste Pringle, the assistant superintendent for administration, said she hoped the board will allow the committee to meet again.

“We don’t want anyone to think this is a waste of time,” she said. “If we don’t have these discussions we won’t grow.”

With five of the nine board members on the committee, it’s likely that its work will continue. Dumm said he wants to focus on the impact on learning.

“Most of the other issues are peripheral,” he said. “Would a change to the time have a significant impact on the education that kids get?”

If he saw that, the other issues, “could take a back seat,” he said.

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