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Education: Schools won’t start later, but some may run longer

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A proposal to start school later for middle and high schools in Georgetown County won’t get further study from the school district. But the district will look at extending the school year by up to 20 days for some rural schools.

An ad hoc committee formed at the request of School Board Chairman Jim Dumm agreed last week that they wanted to look at the benefits and impacts of starting school later for adolescents. Studies in some district have found improved performance with later start times that account for the changing sleep patterns of teens.

The 24 committee members, including five board members, couldn’t agree whether a change was needed, but said it would be minimal if it was. High schools now start between 7:40 and 7:58 a.m.

Mike Cafaro, the district’s director of student support services, recommended to the school board this week that any additional study of later school starts take place in the four attendance areas: Waccamaw, Georgetown, Carvers Bay and Andrews. “There are some things that need to be worked out,” he said, and that will require input from the schools and their communities.

“There has been no groundswell,” Dumm said. “No firm input from the public.”

He proposed the idea after reading about the impact of later start times in other areas and said he wanted to start the discussion in Georgetown County.

Waccamaw High principal David Hammel said he hasn’t heard any interest in starting school later. “Our crowd is very happy where it is,” he said.

A later start would mean a later finish, and the school has a full schedule of sports and other extracurricular activities that would be affected, he said.

“There’s probably an opportunity to tweak some times,” Superintendent Randy Dozier said. Some elementary schools start class before 7:30 a.m. “That’s really too early for little people.”

Dozier said he will present a plan to extend the school year beyond 180 days in some rural schools. “Especially some of the schools that have challenges academically,” he said.

The idea came from the principals, he said.

In school report cards that were posted this week, two elementary schools had “below average” overall ratings, based on performance on standardized tests. Another rated “at risk” for growth.

The district already funds summer programs. Dozier said he believes the money can be found to extend the school year 10 to 20 days.

“If we’re going to make marked improvement and close the [racial] achievement gap, we’re going to have to do more,” he said.

Under state law, the school year can’t start before the third Monday in August, so extra days will have to be added at the end of the year. Any addition to the mandated 180 days would have to be approved by the state Department of Education.

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