Thursday, March 8, 2007

Changing Times at Boston High Schools

Some of Boston’s high school students can look forward to new schedules with a later starting time. Under a policy recommendation approved last night by the School Committee, the change can take place in ten high schools beginning in September. School officials say they believe the change will improve performance, but they’re also hearing complaints about likely transportation changes that will be required for students at private schools and charter schools.

Speaking in favor of the change at last night’s School Committee meeting were members of the Boston Student Advisory Council. One student who spoke was Quincy Goodwin, a 10th grader at the Urban Science Academy in West Roxbury. He says his trip to school from Mattapan takes half an hour. He has to arrive by 7:20 a.m., the starting time for most Boston high schools.

Goodwin says a later starting time is “beneficial to students with long commutes.” He told officials the change would also “motivate students to come to school.” Other students spoke in support of the change, though they said there could be conflicts with sports participation and other activities after school.

The co-director of the service organization, Youth on Board, Jenny Sazama, says many Boston students told her they get only 5 or 6 hours of sleep before school days.

“They’re exhausted,” she told the School Committee. “I see them falling asleep in school all the time.”

A change in schedule has already produced results at Brighton High School. Headmaster Toby Romer says a change in the starting time by 25 minutes—led to a drop in tardiness by 75%.

Officials say they plan to change starting times eventually at other schools and grade levels. Though he drew up the plan for later times at ten schools, Superintendent Michael Contompasis says transportation needs will be a “major roadblock” to his push for longer days at under-performing schools. He told the School Committee the resulting changes in transportation to schools outside the system will “bring a level of discomfort to large segments of the population.”

Some of those segments were heard from last night. Contompasis said there would be “some accommodation” with the needs of private and parochial schools. But the chairperson of the School Committee, Dr. Elizabeth Reilinger, said its responsibility “is to place the needs of the students in the Boston Public Schools first.”