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School Start Time Update

October 3, 2018

 

Dear Newton Families,

 

At the School Committee meeting on Monday night, our team provided an update on the exploration of later start times for our high schools. Information was provided on the status of the high school schedule redesign, as well as the current financial outlook for the district.

 

As you may recall, in the spring of 2017, the School Committee, upon the recommendation of the district and following several months of feedback from students, staff, and community, supported moving forward with a redesign of the high school schedule. This redesign would facilitate a shift to later start times, and target end times no later than 3:00 p.m. so as to minimize impact on student, family, and community life.

 

SCHEDULE REDESIGN

During the 2017-18 school year, a joint high school committee began to review and evaluate the current high school class schedules. This has been a valuable and timely process given that the current schedules at NNHS and NSHS were designed more than 20 years ago. Since that time, many new models for scheduling have emerged that reflect the needs of today’s students and support best practice in teaching and learning. The presentation to School Committee can be found here: [LINK TO TOBY’S PRESENTATION] The work continues on the schedule and is expected to be completed this winter, following input and feedback from high school families and students. We are committed to developing schedules that maintain the academic excellence and breadth at both high schools while acknowledging the social and emotional needs of our students.

 

It is important to note that up until now, the district has focused its efforts on moving the high school start times later, while maintaining the current start times at the elementary and middle school levels. This focus was a result of feedback from the majority of elementary and middle school families demonstrating that they preferred to keep their current start times.

 

FINANCIAL OUTLOOK

However, the financial outlook for the district will make this strategy impossible to implement. Since 2016, our busing costs have risen nearly 20 percent and are expected to rise 5 percent annually for the foreseeable future. If we move high school start times to 8:30 a.m. but maintain current start times at elementary and middle schools, we must add more buses. The additional transportation cost is estimated at $1.1 million (over and above the projected 5 percent annual increase). Our projected budget for the coming year means a $1.1 million increase in bus transportation costs would result in corresponding decreases in core academic services.

 

NEXT STEPS

Given the financial realities, we will now turn our focus to developing options for later high school start times that may include changes to both elementary and middle school start times. These options will need to maintain our existing tiered system in which buses serve multiple school levels.

 

We expect to have revised proposals for a systemwide start time change for review in spring 2019. The proposals will consider the new high school schedule, the cost, and the impact of traffic. At that time, we will solicit community feedback on these new options.

 

Given this new timeframe, no changes to high school start time will be implemented in the 2019-20 school year. While we are disappointed in this delay, we do believe that in order to ultimately be successful, we must move forward in a way that fully addresses the challenges unique to our City and to our district and is respectful of community input.

 

The exploration of later high school start times has already prompted the good and necessary work of revising our high school schedules. With that piece in place, we can continue our exploration and, together with the community, determine how to make later start times a reality in Newton. Thank you for your patience.

 

Sincerely,

 

David Fleishman and the Newton School Committee