Friday, November 17, 2017

Doing What's Best for All: School Start Times

Yesterday multiple teachers met with the school committee to discuss proposed school start changes. In general, the educators present urged the school committee and system leadership to look deeply at the needs of all involved, not just one group.

Many told stories of what it takes for young students to succeed, and the fact that an early start for young students and families is advantageous for optimal learning, family support, and thoughtful teaching. Late starts for young children mean greater day care costs, longer commutes, less good energy for learning, and more potential for stress and struggle. It was felt that to make positive changes for high school students with regard to school start times should not mean that the elementary school programs have to burden the change with less than ideal start times and reduced supports. Why can't we make positive change for some without taking away from others--how can change be a win-win for all?

The whole issue has made me think a lot about vision and process. Over the past many years our system has tackled a number of singular issues, but not since the work to build a new high school, have we engaged in a deep and inclusive process to set systemwide vision and provide a long range plan. I believe that when you don't have a long range plan, the short term goals suffer, and money and time are often not well used.

So what next steps are important in this regard? As one educator recommended, I think the issue should be tabled for now with the intent to work more closely with other school systems to make a regional decision that positively affects all while not taking significant time or effort away from some. I don't think that we should start elementary school at a later time as I do believe the increased traffic, loss of optimal instructional time, impact on family/work lives, and day care costs for our students, their families, and teachers are too great. We have a terrific teaching/learning program, and instead of making decisions to challenge that program, I think our efforts should be centered on how we can work to improve that program with a focus on the problems of practice that exist.

As for later start times for the high school. I understand that there's lots to discuss. I am a strong proponent of holistic school programs and believe that all students should have the opportunity for wonderful academic, arts, physical education/sports, and social competency learning and progress. Time needs to be looked at closely to fit all that in, and that's an issue that those in the know including administrators, high school teachers, and students and families at the high school level need to discuss and consider carefully. No one was complaining about a later start time for high school students as long as that time is truly going to result in a significant positive change.

As I think of our school communities, of course I'm a fan of spending the time and money to truly make impactful decisions--decisions that retain the terrific programming and service to families and students that currently exist, and decisions that help us to move forward with greater strength and purpose. In my view, decisions that I believe will lead to greater success are issues related to the following areas:
  • better and more purposeful communication amongst and between all levels and stakeholders of the school system. For example, I believe the system will profit from more modern ways of sharing research, professional learning, decision making and new ideas to forward teaching/learning as a system-wide team of families, educators, and students.
  • re-looking at school buildings and potentially creating a master plan for an elementary school campus that forwards a modern day approach to inside/outside healthy learning and collaboration. The issue of neighborhood schools is an important issue--is it best to forward renovated neighborhood schools or to pool the money and create a more modern elementary school campus? That answer would have to be the result of good process.
  • utilizing greater models of distributive leadership in order to foster greater leadership amongst all educators and students. I believe that when models of teaching and learning are too hierarchical and top-down, there's less room for creativity, innovation, development, and sensitive student/family supports.
  • greater modern use of technology and experiential learning to forward learning in modern, worthy ways.
There's many positive challenges in my own teaching/learning sphere. Our shared model of teaching at fifth grade is successful and there's plenty of room to grow that model to be even stronger. I'm excited about that work. Greater and better use of technology to foster rich and deep learning is possible, and I'd like to see us move in that direction too. I would also like to see us partner with local organizations to foster greater and deeper experiential learning as I believe that kind of learning fosters strong citizenship and a greater love, depth, and success with regard to learning. These kinds of efforts demand lots of collaboration and support. 

In summary, how can we make good decisions that benefit all rather than decisions that only benefit some and potentially hurt others? That's the key question, in my opinion, with regard to this situation.