By Seth Daniel
Within the Boston Public Schools (BPS), there are numerous different start and end times to the school day, and after more than a year of study, the School Committee is ready to review a policy as early as next week that could change those times significantly across the city.
After hearing from parents and elected officials, such as Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, for some time about the radically different schedules across the district, the schools began a study last year. In fact, school officials said they reached out to a nearby resource for guidance in determining the mathematics of the situation – that resource being the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Quantum Team.
“Boston Public Schools is listening to the voices of families and staff as we work to finalize a policy for adjusting school day start- and end-times that will result in improved outcomes for families,” said John Hanlon of BPS. “We have heard loud and clear from parents and students that our schedules ought to better reflect the sleep patterns of teenagers and provide more elementary school students dismissal times that are earlier in the day. BPS is working closely with the Boston School Committee to finalize a policy that will encompass these needs and provide more coherence to school schedules.”
The new policy is on the School Committee agenda for Dec. 6. That policy is a general statement about where the district should go in terms of start and end times. According to the schools, it hadn’t been updated district-wide since 1990.
It is expected to go for a vote on Dec. 6, and if approved, BPS is ready to use that policy guidance to release the specific school times at every school across the district.
In Charlestown, there are a variety of opinions.
The Warren Prescott Elementary currently goes from 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. and is an Extended Learning Time (ELT) school – which means it has additional time added to each school day.
School Site Council Co-Chair Ames Forish, who has a third grader and a K-2 student, said she and most parents really like the school’s times right now.
“I love it,” she said. “I’m very satisfied our start time is 8:30. I know a lot of other parents feel the same way. Our worst case if it had to move 15 minutes earlier to 8:15 and let out at 2:55, that would only be a minor disruption. Anything dramatic though could be a little tough on the community…I’ve heard whispers that they are going to bring it back to 8 or 8:15, but nothing dramatic.”
Harvard-Kent Principal Jason Gallagher said it is a hot topic in the school community right now. He is encouraged that BPS is working to accommodate everyone.
“My opinion is that we need a school start/end time that makes sense for our students and families,” he said. “We support the work being done by BPS and School Committee to try and make changes that work for all schools.”
At the high school level is often where a lot of the frustrations come in. Many schools start at 7:15 a.m., and for students in exam schools, traveling from Charlestown to the Fenway or Roxbury can be a challenge at such an early hour.
The same is true for students coming to Charlestown High, where many students travel to the Town on the MBTA from Mattapan or Hyde Park.
Forish said middle and high school seem a long way off, but such early start times do scare her as a parent in Charlestown.
“I think that is really tough,” she said. “I think 7 a.m. to try to get from Charlestown to an exam school – right at the age where so much brain development is occurring – that’s just too early. I want to be fair in my opinion, but that’s tough.”
There are an unbelievable number of combinations that could occur, and school officials said that is why they enlisted the help of MIT. If the School Committee does adopt that policy, the combination of new times and transportation conundrums will have been thoroughly vetted by some of the best mathematicians on the planet.
“BPS is especially grateful for the 10,000 students, parents, guardians, and staff members who provided online survey responses, along with the hundreds of other people who attended community meetings and workshops about start- and end-times,” said Hanlon. “BPS is also thankful for the work of the MIT Quantum Team, which is using state-of-the-art optimization techniques to provide the broadest range of options in school scheduling.”