Haldane Considers Timing of School Day

Board member Peter Henderson resigns

by Pamela Doan

Sleep-deprived teenagers have been in the news. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control have weighed in with research showing that early school start times are part of the problem. Studies show that teens needs 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night and the U.S. average is seven.

Because of the way their bodies and brains function, they don’t do well until 8 a.m., according to the CDC report published in August. Lack of sleep is linked to a range of health issues, including obesity, depression, anxiety and mood disorders and Type-2 diabetes.

Haldane middle school and high school students begin their day at 7:33 a.m. currently and are done with school at 2:15 p.m. That leaves time in the afternoon and early evening for an extra period of academic assistance, extracurricular activities like clubs or music, jobs, homework, and sports. The elementary school students attend from 8:45 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

At the Haldane Board of Education meeting on Oct. 20, emphasizing the seriousness of the problem, Superintendent Diana Bowers and Principal Brian Alm made a presentation about the issue with three possible scenarios for adjusting school start times. There are challenges, sacrifices and more resources attached to each.

Haldane students share teachers, classroom space, athletic fields, gyms and transportation across the three levels on a single campus. This allows the district to save money and resources, but it does make any schedule changes a complicated puzzle. There are five cafeteria periods to accommodate all the students, for example. Buses make two runs each morning and afternoon carrying older students first and then elementary students.

Synchronizing the schedules for all grades would mean adding buses, physical education space, music classroom space, PE and music teachers, and new contract terms with the staff. Athletes would have to forfeit band or chorus and the extra period of academic help when they had to play a game. All of this would create a significant enough budget increase that Alm said, “We would have to override the tax cap.”

Districts are only allowed to ask voters to approve a budget increase that falls within their allotment as determined by a formula from the state Department of Education. This is called the tax levy limit and referred to commonly as the “tax cap.” To ask the taxpayers for a larger increase requires a supermajority approval from 60 percent of voters.

Shifting the start times would bring the high school and middle school students in at 8 a.m. and the elementary students in at 9 a.m. The school day would end at 2:45 and 3:30 p.m., respectively. Extracurricular activities and games would start and end later. Students who go off campus to access training and classes at BOCES would miss part of their lunch period. Alm said that they couldn’t share a music teacher across the grades in this case and would need to add a part-time teacher.

Swapping start times had even more challenges and would bring elementary students in at 8 a.m. with upper grades starting at 8:45 a.m. All of the same difficulties occur from the shifting start times scenario, as well as late start times for games and inability to coordinate band and chorus. The full presentation is available on the district’s website. The board asked the administration to continue working and come back with a recommendation. They want to have a course of action before they have to prepare their 2016-17 budget.

Henderson resigns

Peter Henderson

Peter Henderson

Peter Henderson, who was elected in May to a two-year term, announced that he is vacating his seat as of Nov. 19 but will leave sooner if the board finds his replacement before then. He cited personal reasons and said, “I’ll try to elaborate at the next meeting but am reluctant to go into any detail before then. I announced my intention to resign when I did in order to give the board adequate time to plan for my replacement.”

The board has four options: leave the position vacant and operate as a four- member board until the election in May; appoint a replacement; conduct an open search and interview interested candidates before appointing someone; hold a new election. Due to the cost of an election, they ruled out that option first. They intend to seek out interested parties but agreed that they were not obligated to interview everyone who applies. Interviews have to be done publicly.

18 thoughts on “Haldane Considers Timing of School Day

  1. Please, Haldane administrators and board, do NOT move the school’s start times to later in the day!

    As the parent of a third grader and an eighth grader at Haldane, I do sincerely applaud efforts to make changes to our schools in response to persuasive research about children and teens, whether it be the increasing understanding we are gaining of the adolescent brain, the ways kids use technology/social media well or not, the beneficial effects of study in the arts and music, and so on. However, I also contend it’s especially important to weigh all changes carefully and skeptically, with a critical eye on what’s purported to be gained, as well as an honest reckoning with what will be lost.

    In the current discussion of shifting the starting times for the school day, I see a great deal lost with little if anything to gain by the proposed changes; moreover, I would suggest other solutions — solutions that have to do with reducing homework and addressing the issue of when kids actually drop everything and get to real sleep — that would begin to address the most desirable changes much more so than letting our older kids sleep in for half an hour.

    First off, this article speaks of “synchronizing the schedules” for all grades, yet the proposal doesn’t quite lay that out: elementary kids would still start later than the rest, and parents with both elementary and older kids would not find their lives in the morning any easier, with two different drop-off times. Plus, and worse still, shifting the drop-off times for our youngest kids from 8:35 a.m. (the earliest parents can now drop elementary students off) to 9 a.m. would mean that any parent who now scrambles to get to work after dropping off a young-un for a 9 a.m. start would likely not make it.

    But among the sacrifices the schedule changes would entail, this one example alone is almost painful to re-type, but here I quote the article above anyway: “Athletes would have to forfeit band or chorus and the extra period of academic help when they had to play a game.” To which I respond: WHAT? We have phenomenal arts and athletics programs at Haldane, and it is a measure of the depth of this community that our kids can “do it all”: just take one look at the band kids sitting in the southern end zone at the football games, and you will see among them not only talented musicians but also successful athletes in other sports, including stars of our cross country and soccer programs, just to name a few.

    So this new plan, by design, is acknowledged from the start to undermine BOTH the music program and athletic programs by making kids choose between them instead of enabling them to participate deeply in both? PLUS it would mean athletes would have to sacrifice their “academic help” time as well? These are not the kinds of priorities I support at all, no siree.

    And another point: these plans require, according to what’s laid out in this article, more space and staffing for PE and music (among other things such as bussing). Would I welcome more space and staffing for PE and music? You bet! But let’s not forget that merely a year or two ago, we were presented with not a boost to these programs but with CUTS to the arts staffing and to some part-time coaching — bad scenarios that were avoided only at the last minute to preserve the then-status quo. In light of that scare, it’s more likely than not that when money is the question, these once-threatened elements of our school will again be among the most at risk.

    Also, according to this article, the change would mean that extracurricular activities and sports games would start later… and END later. So, the logic here is, we want kids to get more sleep, but we’re setting them up to get home from, say, their volleyball game LATER than in the past, so that they start their homework later, so that they get to bed later…. What kind of sense does this make?

    Thing is, I believe this research that says kids, especially adolescents, should be getting more — a lot more — sleep. I myself work at a private K-12 school and for many years have witnessed the need for this first-hand among high-achieving young people. But this proposed schedule shift will just not do it. When it’s suggested that our kids are getting, on average, seven hours of sleep on average when they should be getting between eight and ten, I don’t quite believe it — specifically, I don’t believe they’re actually getting even seven! I don’t have a survey or numbers, but I strongly suspect they’re getting a LOT less than seven. If so, changing one hour or less at the early end–and putting in place scenarios where they get home from school events later than before! — will do zero to change things.

    Instead of forcing kids to choose whether they are primarily athletes or artists–when the beauty of the Haldane way, up to now at least, is that they can do both, and so well! — let us instead confront the issue of sleep more honestly and with more accountability on our parents’ and teachers’ parts.

    How about we address the amount of homework kids in middle and high school are getting? Maybe they should get less of a load — there’s heaps of research out there pointing to the need for less, but more effective, homework assignments. And hey, how late is your kid staying up poking around on a phone or iPad, hanging out until one, two, three a.m. with friends on social media? There’s much to gain by individual families’ putting in greater efforts to help their kids manage these social/technological aspects of their lives better, and help them get more sleep in the bargain.

  2. Very well said! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you have stated above. My daughter counts on the 10th period extra help for one thing. Also, she’s in chorus and plays sports after school, both which she loves and I would be heartbroken if I had to tell her she had to pick one or the other because of a 27-minute time change. The solution is, as you said, to get these kids to sleep earlier, if that means taking away the iPhone or iPad at a certain time every school night, then so be it. That’s what we do and it works for our family. Sounds like it is way too complicated to change the school time to 27 minutes later.

  3. The studies conclusively show that a child’s physiological body clock moves to a later schedule in adolescence as a natural part of development. Putting down the iPad earlier won’t change that. We have learned from these studies that forcing an inappropriately early schedule onto pre-teens and teens, such as Haldane does, has measurable negative health impacts and results in lower student performance.

    The school’s priority should be education and the health of the students, with other considerations as secondary. I therefore urge the school board to do what knowledge & science has shown to be best for the kids: adjust the start times for middle and high school students later as recommended by American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC. Let’s give our kids the best chance to succeed!

  4. I agree that “The school’s priority should be education and the health of the students, with other considerations as secondary.”

    I however, firmly believe that sports and the arts are critical to the educational development of our children. There are only so many hours in the day, and until a solution is put forth that will not impact either of those cited in the article (sports/chorus), I have to agree with Mr. Petkus that this plan is not beneficial to our school community as a whole.

    I would like to know what the school district’s plan will be for parents who commute or have built careers around their children’s school life?

    According to Mr. Alm’s comments, this change will necessitate adding buses, physical education space, music classroom space, PE and music teachers, and new contract terms with the staff. It sounds VERY expensive to Haldane taxpayers.

    If you read the CDC recommendations, later start times are just one suggestion among a host of others that parents can now implement FOR FREE, including implementing media curfews for their children, and setting earlier and regular bedtimes for their children.

    Again, I have to agree with Mr. Petkus in that the “lack of sleep” of our children should be a parent/family responsibility and not one that is “fixed” by legislating it through the local school boards at the expense of everyone in the community (those with school-aged children, and those without).

  5. Preserving extracurricular flexibility or parental convenience does not justify the continuation of a school schedule that subjects the entire Haldane middle and high school student population to added health problems and reductions in core subject performance. This is plainly not in the kids’ best interest.

    Changing the schedule may be inconvenient at first and require some adjustments, but as responsible parents, there is no way to avoid not acting to remedy this harm to our kids now that we know about it.

  6. Early to bed, early to rise. Perhaps those pushing for later start times can offer to foot the bill for those in the community that don’t want it, because as Mr. Alm stated in the article, it is going to be very expensive and very disruptive.

    As responsible parents I still advocate for more oversight at home, within the community and earlier bed times. Legislating the problem through the school board and passing those expenses onto to everyone (with or without children, retirees and seniors) is not the answer.

    There are always private schools – but looking around it seems they start early as well. Home school, perhaps?

  7. The notion of providing later start times for middle- and high-schoolers has been part of the national school conversation for at least a couple of decades, if not longer. Back when our high school in Putnam Valley opened in 2000, the then-principal was working on his doctorate in chronobiology and had a lot to say about the benefits of starting not just school, but also SAT and ACT tests, later in the day.

    The roadblocks have always been considerable: athletics and the arts are almost always scheduled for after school, BOCES programs would have to be realigned, after-school jobs would be affected, transportation costs could go up, and those students whose parents rely on them to provide child care for younger siblings would no longer be available.

    On the other hand, if littler kids went to school earlier in the day, there might be some savings in before-school day care that many parents end up paying for now.

    I doubt this can be done on a district-by-district basis. If all of the middle and high schools in Section One were to consider realigning start times, then the athletic piece could probably be worked out. And while it’s wonderful that districts like Haldane and PV have such a high percentage of students doing both athletics and the arts, there might be scheduling alternatives to make things doable.

    I’m also not at all sure that if I had it to do over again, I’d allow our kids to do as much after school as we did. Ultimately, they self-selected: one gave up athletics to focus on music, and the other stuck with athletics but opted out of other clubs and activities.

  8. That may be true, but I believe it wasn’t until last year’s AAP study that there was empirical data backing up what some have intuitively known for years. Now those that typically obstruct progress on this issue have to contend with challenging the recommendations of two groups of prominent physicians that have reached consensus and issued strong recommendations. It is no longer a question of “if,” but we know definitively that harm is being caused to our kids.

    I wonder when this super-early schedule was first implemented? In an informal survey of about 10 adults, no one reported starting earlier than 8:15 a.m. and some as late as 8:50 a.m. Is this a Putnam County thing?

    • I want to make clear that I’m not disagreeing with the concept of starting later. I embrace it.

      Also, the empirical data really have been around for a long while. Here’s one quick web link that cites research from as long ago as the late 1990s.

      Having closely followed some of these discussions over the years as both a parent and education writer, I know what many of the pros and cons are, and some of them are weighty, which is why I listed them.

      Finally, I’m sure you know that there’s not always public support — especially in public school districts where “local control” has long been the mantra — for using national governmental or medical organizational standards to guide how we educate our kids. Wildly varying sex education standards or the recent furor over Common Core are just a couple of examples.

      I wish Haldane well, and I hope everyone’s kids will get the very best opportunities to learn and excel in extracurriculars, too.

      I just don’t see it happening any time soon unless it’s part of a broader, regional effort.

      • I am very disappointed to learn of other studies from years past showing extreme early morning start times at Haldane, and other schools with similar schedules, were indeed detrimental to the kids, and the community allowed the practice to continue and wasn’t able to fix it in all of this time.

        However times change, populations change, and technology has made our society much more knowledge based than ever before. Even semi-rural communities like Cold Spring/Philipstown are experiencing an ever-shrinking number of those with an irrational but understandable emotional attachment to the way things were always done, and the stubborn resistance to positive changes it produces.

        Attempting to organize the school schedule changes on a regional basis all-at-once seems like a Mission Impossible, with too many moving parts and people to coordinate and agree. This approach may account for the failure to rectify this in the past. I believe that the change is inevitable, and that some districts will be the leaders in this effort. Those that are will have a happier, healthier student population that performs better in school that much sooner.

  9. I took an informal survey of about 10 adults this morning in the deli. All 10 said this idea is ludicrous. Some folks were for Cold Spring, a few from Orange County, a few from Westchester. They all said their schools have the same start times as Haldane.

    Reading those studies, the only definitive thing that these two prominent groups of physicians have stated is the children need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep. They currently average 7.

    Parents, please put your children to bed earlier.

    • Your interpretation of the physicians’ message as simply “get more sleep” is inaccurate.

      Rather, their definitive message is:

      “…a substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports the efforts of school districts to optimize sleep in students and urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep (8.5–9.5 hours) and to improve physical (eg, reduced obesity risk) and mental (eg, lower rates of depression) health, safety (eg, drowsy driving crashes), academic performance, and quality of life.” -AAP Abstract (Link in article)

      Also, you had previously mentioned cost. Don’t forget that only one of the three proposals have added costs, so if costs are not a factor and given the above strong recommendations, will you support making the change?

      • If i’m not mistaken, the above article reads:

        “Superintendent Diana Bowers and Principal Brian Alm made a presentation about the issue with three possible scenarios for adjusting school start times. There are challenges, sacrifices and more resources attached to each.”

        Mr. Alm goes onto say “Synchronizing the schedules for all grades would mean adding buses, physical education space, music classroom space, PE and music teachers, and new contract terms with the staff. Athletes would have to forfeit band or chorus and the extra period of academic help when they had to play a game. All of this would create a significant enough budget increase that Alm said, “We would have to override the tax cap.”

        Seems rather clear that there will be added expenses in each scenario, so your question is misguided.

        I do agree that change can be a positive, but in this case I disagree. I’ve also read some very interesting discussions surrounding our SRO that also make me wonder what the ultimate goal is of some in our community. If our public school isn’t a fit, the government has made other options readily accessible.

        I also have to wonder about someone that writes statements like “Even semi-rural communities like Cold Spring/Philipstown are experiencing an ever-shrinking number of those with an irrational but understandable emotional attachment to the way things were always done, and the stubborn resistance to positive changes it produces.”

        I can only shake my head and say c’mon were better than that.

  10. The previous comment quoting the least desirable and doable of the three options (“synchronized” start times of all three schools) is misleading as it leads the reader to believe the costs, complexity and drawbacks apply to all options. In fact, it is the only one with meaningful costs (exceeding the tax cap) and all agree, the least doable.

    For those that do not want to rely on the potentially unreliable representations of others on the issues surrounding the healthy school start time initiative, I suggest viewing the video of the Haldane administration’s presentation to the Board of Education.

  11. Emphasizing “get more sleep,” as though this is solely a parental control issue, is short-sighted. My understanding of the research is that teenagers’ biological clocks are simply not the same as other people’s. They are wired to go to bed later, and, ideally, wake up later. As anyone who has raised one or more teenagers knows, they sleep when they are ready.

    This quote from the National Sleep Foundation explains it: “Research shows the typical adolescent’s natural time to fall asleep may be 11 pm or later; because of this change in their internal clocks, teens may feel wide awake at bedtime, even when they are exhausted (Wolfson & Carskadon, 1998). This leads to sleep deprivation in many teens who must wake up early for school, and thus do not get the 8 1/2 – 9 1/4 hours of sleep that they need.”

    I know it’s hard for families to embrace changes – major or minor – in their kids’ schedules, because one change tends to disrupt everybody else’s schedule as well, affecting childcare, work commitments, extra-curriculars, and a lot more.

    But I watched my own kids battle their way through high school, college testing and college applications, knowing all the while that they should have been on a different school schedule and unable to do anything about it.

    What an amazing opportunity for Haldane’s parents to be able to provide some sensible support and relief to their kids as they navigate the high school-to-college pipeline. And in the long run, such a change will eventually benefit all of the children in a family.

  12. Years ago I read a book that you all might find interesting. It offers a perspective on our cultural patterns in relation to our evolutionary history and the rather recent development of the light bulb. Much of what I read in that book made a lot of sense to me. It went through the cycles of hormonal changes in our bodies, discussing how they were once anchored in activities directly connected to our survival, and pointedly describing how they are used today (“today” meaning when the book was published in 2001).

    The perspective was memorable, though the writing and organization were not. I think I read something about a change in editor’s or publisher’s part-way through the process, which probably didn’t help. I do remember the book had a playful style to offset the hard-core research (and make it more palatable to a larger audience?), which probably wasn’t the best idea.

    I would offer it though, as another perspective and not just to benefit teenagers. It’s called, “Lights Out: Sleep, Sugar and Survival.”

  13. Seems to be a moot argument, as the PCNR has reported that changing the school day was voted down by the School Board unanimously. I was relieved to hear that at least one member of the board (Evan Schwarz) offered advice on how parents can take more responsibility for earlier bed times. Thank you also to Peggy Clements and Margaret Parr who commented on the economic reality of changing the school day, and the effect it would have on family time in the evenings.

    Besides, with daylight savings time we all gained an hour and it was free!

  14. Patient: Haldane MS & HS Children

    Diagnosis: Rising rate of obesity, depression, diabetes, anxiety, mood disorders, due to chronic sleep deprivation caused by school schedule in conflict with teen body clock

    Prescribed Cure: Modify school start time to no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

    Prognosis: Poor, no change anticipated. Patient lacks advocates. Guardians reject cure citing economic hardship. Patient destined to suffer for foreseeable future.