Dear parents, staff, and students:
Over the next several months, your New Paltz Central School District Board of Education will be exploring later school start times for our Middle School and High School students. Community participation is an essential component of this discussion, and we will be seeking student, parent, and staff feedback through a variety of formal methods, including focus group discussions, surveys, and public meetings.
Between now and January, experts from K12 Insight, an educational consulting firm that specializes in community engagement, will conduct extensive outreach to ensure our stakeholders have an opportunity to voice their opinions on this topic. These professionals will ensure that the Board receives clear, comprehensive feedback about the various implications of adjusting start times.
The Board is pursuing this change for a simple, urgent reason: a substantial body of research indicates that later start times for teens and adolescents allows for more sleep, which leads to improved physical and mental health, academic achievement, and safety.
A number of factors lead to chronic sleep loss in our older students, including biological changes in their circadian rhythms, social factors, and academic demands. A clear action available to the District to optimize sleep – and therefore mitigate negative health and safety outcomes – is to delay school start times for our older students.
Medical research is nearly unanimous in recognizing the benefits of optimizing sleep for teens and adolescents. A summary of the science behind this issue, with citations, is available in the Quick Links section of our District homepage called “School Start Time Initiative.” Highlights of this information and benefits supported by the research include:
- Circadian rhythms. At the onset of puberty, the natural sleep-wake cycle shifts up to two hours later.
- Health. Negative consequences of insufficient sleep include impaired mood, loss of attention and memory, reduced executive brain function, behavior issues, increased use of stimulants, increased car crashes, cardiovascular and metabolic dysfunction, increased fatigue, depression, substance abuse, and increases in risky behavior.
- Academic Performance. Well-rested students have higher attendance, lower tardiness rates, higher test scores, and higher grade point averages.
- Bedtime Shifts. Although one may expect that later start times would result in students simply staying up later, this is not the case. Later start times yield more sleep.
- Athletics. Increased performance and fewer injuries are reported for students who get more sleep.
- Logistics. Shifting school start times creates logistical challenges, but communities that endeavor to find solutions are successful in overcoming these obstacles.
The Board of Education fully recognizes that any potential changes come with challenges, but is committed to thoroughly exploring options and putting in the hard work necessary to engage our community and determine if solutions are available.
Transportation factors (buses, drivers, and budget); child care demands; parental work schedules; student commitments to employers; reductions in evening time for homework and family; scheduling for before-school and after-school activities (athletics, clubs); and coordination with external organizations and facilities are some of the possible challenges inherent in changing the start time of school. Community discussion about these potential roadblocks is a necessity before moving ahead in the decision-making process.
Delaying school start times for our secondary students has been on the minds of Board of Education members for quite some time. Now it is time for us to hear from the stakeholders who would be directly impacted by any potential change.
In March 2016, the District’s administration outlined potential logistics and challenges in a presentation to the Board (available from the School Start Time Initiative Quick Link). We were encouraged by our Transportation Department’s presentation, which thoroughly explored one possible scenario and presented no significant budgetary consequences, while the building-level and athletics presentations identified very specific challenges for us to consider.
On October 13, K12 Insight will conduct three focus group discussions with our students, staff, and parents. These conversations will inform the development of a survey, which will be administered in December, designed to provide a more comprehensive understanding of potential challenges and benefits of changing our start time. Survey results will be presented to the Board of Education on January 4, 2017 and a community forum to discuss the results will be held on January 5, 2017.
The Board will continue to deliberate on the issue based on this feedback and will endeavor to thoroughly mitigate any negative impact on student opportunities. We hope you will participate in this process so your voice is a part of the conversation.
The health and safety of our students is of paramount importance. We are optimistic that with the support of our community, faculty, staff, and administration, we can positively impact our students’ quality of life. The Board of Education welcomes your feedback. You may contact us at 845-256-4031, firstname.lastname@example.org, or during the public comment period of any Board of Education meeting, typically held the first and third Wednesday of the month.
Your New Paltz Board of Education
Aimee Hemminger, President
Michael O'Donnell, Vice President