Pasco taking another look at high school start times
LAND O' LAKES - It's a topic the Pasco County School Board has broached before: Research shows high school students would be better served with a later school starting time. In Pasco, as in many school districts, high schools get the earliest start; elementary schools start later, many of them not until 9:40 a.m. "The data shows we should reverse those," board Vice Chairman Allen Altman said last week as the school board approved starting times for the coming year. It's too late to make changes for 2011-12 and the district shows no sign of jumping into a major change. Superintendent Heather Fiorentino, however, said it might be time for a high school to pilot the idea, possibly in 2012-13, and see whether it has any significant effect.Fiorentino said she could talk with principals and ask if any would be willing to give it a try. School starting times for 2011-12 are unchanged from the past year. Most Pasco high schools start about 7:30 a.m., although Mitchell High starts at 8:40 a.m. and Ridgewood High at 8:30 a.m. Mitchell starts later because it shares buses with Seven Springs Middle, which is next door. Ridgewood was given the later start time two years ago as part of an effort to improve student performance after the school received a D grade from the state. Summer Romagnoli, a school district spokeswoman, said those two schools might be prime candidates for a study. The school board probably will discuss that in a future workshop. Ten years ago, the district studied the issue by comparing Mitchell High and its late start to Land O' Lakes High. Land O' Lakes averaged 5.18 tardies each day during the 2001-02 academic year; Mitchell averaged 3.6. The study documented that as tardies increased, achievement decreased. But beyond the tardy situation, the study found no evidence that a later start, in and of itself, translated into better grades. Since at least the 1990s, national research has indicated high school students would benefit with a later start to their day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, some research makes the case that students who get more sleep are less likely to be depressed, tardy or absent. They also get better grades. Adolescents need about nine hours of sleep a night, the research found. Their normal sleep cycle puts them to sleep about 11 p.m., so school start times that force them to rise by 6:30 a.m. or earlier are in opposition to the teens' natural body rhythms. Board member Alison Crumbley said sometimes students aren't finished with sports competitions until 10:30 p.m. "I'm sure it affects test scores and attendance and everything else," Crumbley said. School officials say giving high schools later starting times is not as simple as it sounds. "A lot of it is transportation driven," Assistant Superintendent Renalia Dubose said. Start times for high, middle and elementary schools are staggered so the limited buses and drivers can serve all three levels. To give high schools the later starting time, elementary schools likely would need to move into the earlier slot. Middle schools have the most bus riders. From a transportation standpoint, it's more efficient to give them the middle time slot and work high schools and elementary schools around those needs, said Jack Greene, a supervisor in the district's transportation department. Several recurring themes pop up whenever the possibility of later high school start times is considered. High school students often have after-school sports practices, band rehearsals and club activities that would be pushed later into the afternoon or evening if school started later. Many teenagers also have after-school jobs. "The other concern has been having kindergartners out at the bus stop when it's still dark," Fiorentino said. Altman said those arguments are always going to come up, but he would like to see the situation looked at from a student-achievement aspect. "There will not be a perfect solution," he said. Principal Pat Reedy of Pasco High School in Dade City said he has seen the research that indicates it would be better academically for high school students to start later. "What I haven't seen is research on the impact it has on other aspects of their lives," he said. In addition to students' after-school activities and jobs, Reedy said many working parents depend on their teens to be home in the afternoon to babysit siblings. That wouldn't work if elementary school children got out of school before the high school students. "I have a lot of questions about it," Reedy said. "But I do think it's true that whatever decisions are made down the road, the schools will adjust to it."
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