By Bill Slocum
Could Greenwich High School start classes an hour and fifteen minutes later? Could an elementary school day begin at 7:30 a.m.?
Last Friday a panel charged with reviewing public school start times exa.m.ined these and other options, seven in all, for reworking the current public-school day in line with concerns of teenagers losing sleep.
“There are a range of options you can consider,” explained school transit expert Tom Platt of School Bus Consultants, who is advising the School Start Time Steering Committee. “The cost can go from zero to a third higher than as is.”
The cost was only part of the concern. A range of concerns were addressed at the committee meeting, including elementary-school students travelling to or from school in twilight conditions, and the difficulty of coordinating new bus times around the established schedules of local private schools.
Greenwich High School Headmaster Christopher Winters urged the panel consider an eighth option to move start times up just one day a week, a so-called “recharge” day that he noted could be less costly and disruptive than a full-week scenario. But Schools Superintendent William McKersie pushed back, saying the committee needs to move forward with the seven options on the table.
“These are the seven options that get us into different categories,” McKersie said. “Once we can get to that, we can sidebar.”
The seven options each employ different school-day formulas across all public schools. In all of them, classes would begin later at Greenwich High School, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes later than at present. In some of the options, an elementary school day would start earlier than it does now, as early as 7:30 a.m. in Option 1, what Platt termed a “swap option” as it would entail the elementary school day beginning at 7:30 a.m., the same time Greenwich High starts now.
Other options involve later start times for all or most public schools, but at what Platt estimated could be a markedly higher cost. The most expensive option, Option 3, would cost $1.62 million to effect on account of requiring more buses.
Two other options, also involving later start times for most schools, between a half-hour and hour later at Greenwich High, for example, were estimated to incur a price of over $1 million apiece.
Option 7 was the least expensive of any option according to Platt’s estimates, $180,000, involving the smallest increase in buses of any option. In that scenario, high school would begin at 8:45 a.m.; elementary schools at 8 a.m. Middle-school start times would be the most dramatically altered, going from 7:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
A constant refrain during the committee discussion was that none of the options on the table were set in stone. Rather, they are meant as starting points to trigger discussion.
“This is not a zero-sum game,” observed one of the parents on the committee, Jim Healy of Riverside. “If we tweak it a bit in terms of start times you will see opportunities [for further change].”
The tweaking will likely come after a community survey asking parents and others which of the seven options they prefer, and using the options as guideposts toward a consensus.
“There are a lot of clear options as to what options we can go,” McKersie noted. After that, he added, fine-tuning could incorporate other concerns, such as the “refresh day” option Winters noted.
A few times at the meeting it was noted there is an eighth option, in the form of keeping start times as is. But that option was not discussed at length.
The Board of Education, several members of which looked on at the meeting, are scheduled in April to review a proposed survey form on start times. McKersie is due to present his recommendation on moving start times in May.