Lawrence school board prepares for next steps in changing high school start times

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Lawrence school board members listen to a report from Board President Jessica Beeson, second from left, at their meeting on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. The others, left to right, are Superintendent Anthony Lewis; board Vice President Melissa Johnson; and board members Jill Fincher, GR Gordon-Ross, Rick Ingram, Kelly Jones and Shannon Kimball.

Lawrence school board members on Monday voiced support for making high school days start later, and they’ll likely vote at their next meeting on whether to create an implementation committee.

A district survey of parents and students showed that a majority support changing start times from the current 8:05 a.m. to either 8:30 or 9 a.m. High school staff, however, is less in favor of the idea.

All groups raised a number of concerns that board members want to ensure will be taken into account — things with which an implementation committee would be tasked.

The board heard from Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield and Christina Holt, of the University of Kansas’ Center for Community Health and Development, who led the high school start time committee.

Although many staff members who answered the survey said they could see the benefits of students getting more sleep and being better rested for classes, some were worried about whether they could keep second jobs, or that they’d have to adjust or arrange for child care, Holt said. Others said a change to school start times would come amid other large changes — namely, switching to new software, PowerSchool, and construction that is or will be underway at both Lawrence and Free State high schools.

The overwhelming feeling from the 11 focus groups the committee held with parents, students and staff through October and November, Holt said, was a desire for flexibility and options. That was the reason the committee recommended that the district take another year to review the change, as it could involve staggering start times to suit the community’s needs.

Board member Rick Ingram, who has pushed for later high school start times since at least 2015, made the argument that this was a discussion that has gone on for years, and another year without making the change would mean another year of kids not getting enough sleep.

Board President Jessica Beeson said, however, that she was confident the board members believe in the science behind later school start times, and this change had a lot more momentum than it had in years prior. The timeline to try to implement the change before August was just too tight.

“Last year when we put this group together and said ‘Study this,’ we did it with the intention that we would really be ready to make this move if it came back the community was supportive of it,” Beeson said. “… I agree with you that for some teachers, it’s just a matter of change being scary and difficult and those things, but there are also legitimate concerns that were listed that we need to be very mindful of.”

Superintendent Anthony Lewis said a committee would help the district determine how to implement the change effectively.

“I’m not interested in assembling committees and meetings for six months to waste people’s time,” he said. “It’s clear that the community has given us a recommendation, and now it’s just up to us to determine what that will look like.”

Board member Shannon Kimball said, however, she was still not 100 percent sure she’d be ready to commit to making the switch in 2020 until after further discussions. She stressed that she wanted staff members to know their concerns have been heard, plus she was worried about the impact on the budget.

The budget implications would be another consideration of the implementation committee. It would also look at options around the school day start times and end times, plus various details in the district’s policies and contracts that would need to be addressed.

Ingram, however, said the district could look to the examples of others that have changed their start times to see what they have done.

“There are many things that are unique about Lawrence,” Ingram said. “This is not one of them.”

He also said families and teachers all have an ability to adapt that was perhaps underestimated, and that he believed once the board raises public awareness about the scientific benefits of the change, the board could “bring the teachers along.”

Beeson pointed out that the timing to discuss start times will flow well into the district’s upcoming strategic planning process.

“Some of these things are going to just naturally fall into a larger strategic planning process, anyway,” she said.

In other business, the board:

• Approved a draft of the 2019-2020 calendar, which splits professional development days to one in spring and one in fall, and starts kindergarten classes the same days as grades one through five.

• Heard an update on the district’s capital improvement plan, which will come back to the board for approval at its Jan. 28 meeting.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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