Anchorage School Board votes down new start times
After nearly a year of research, the Anchorage School Board voted Monday evening not to adopt new school start times recommended by the district.
Two amendments to the proposed times, from board members Alisha Hilde and Deena Mitchell, failed on 4-2 votes before the board rejected the proposal entirely on a 5-1 vote.
School Board President Starr Marsett, who opposed the idea before it came to a vote, explained her opposition in discussion before the board.
"I believe now is not the right time," Marsett said. "And I say that because there is so much going on in our school district right now and so many changes. And this impacts our staff, this impacts our community and if this impacts our staff and community and impacts our students, and I too will be voting no on this."
The proposed option would have delayed high-school start time by half an hour, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.
Elementary students would start next at 8:45 a.m., 15 minutes earlier than they currently go to school at 9 a.m.
The biggest impact under the proposed plan would delay junior high students by 75 minutes. Currently junior high starts at 8:15 a.m.; had the proposed recommendation been passed, junior high students would start their day at 9:30 a.m.
"It would have a big impact on them," Gruening Middle School teacher Bryce Purcella said. "It's a lot for them to absorb. They are already adjusting from middle school model to junior high model. I think this change may push a lot of them out of after-school activities."
Romig Middle School teacher Ben Walker agrees, saying the 75-minute delay could affect students' ability to join after-school activities.
"They won't get out until after 4 p.m.," Walker said. "Right now they are getting done with those activities at 4 p.m. or 4:30 p.m.; push that back an hour and a half and now that disrupts home life."
ASD staff know they can't please everyone, but they are certainly trying.
"It's definitely a problem," Walker said. "They are not going to please everyone so they have to decide what is the priority. It should be learning. If their is data backing up having high school starting later, then middle school and elementary earliest, if that shows a rise in achievement than that's what we should go with."
Walker says that was the initial plan until the district's hired expert changed the course of action.
"The research is out there and it is not new research," Walker said. "The danger with experts in general is, when they are hired, it becomes self-fulfilling, kind of."
Walker says the district could have saved a lot of money by borrowing its start times from Juneau schools, which start elementary schools before middle schools and then high schools.
"Juneau operates that same way most of the Lower 48 states do," Walker said. "Seems to work out just fine down there and research back it up. To do it any other way seems like we are just trying to please too many people or we are trying to come up with a solution that is all our own. We really should go with what's worked other places."
On Monday night, Hilde offered a plan similar to Juneau's, which would begin elementary, middle and high school classes at 8 a.m., 8:45 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. respectively. She characterized the district's current times as out of touch with modern culture.
"We're not a farm culture; we don't have people waking up to milk cows early," Hilde said. "We have to deal with consequences to that."
Hilde asked her colleagues to back her proposal, despite the effort it would entail.
"I know that's going to be challenging, but what's really compelling to me is that even in districts where there hasn't been ovewhelming support for it, people have really got on board," Hilde said.
Mitchell's plan, which would start high, elementary and middle schools at 8 a.m. 8:45 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. respectively, was focused on high-schoolers.
"The one thing I would offer is that in talking to a great many high-school students, they said 30 minutes would make a great difference," Mitchell said.
Board member and former Anchorage Education Association president Andy Holleman said Mitchell's proposal would affect teachers across the district to implement a 30-minute change. Hilde also questioned the delay of the elementary-school day it would involve.
"That puts the majority of their school day in the afternoon, and I'm concerned about educational opportunities lost," Hilde said.
Elementary students' parents lashed out at the district's early proposals that had grade-schoolers starting first, citing the change would cut into morning family time and also dip into their pocketbooks as far as child care is concerned. High-schoolers worried about after-school employment opportunities and after-school activities. In addition, the winter months' shortened daylight hours had many families concerned about the safety of young children.
"With our location, we aren't going to win the darkness battle," Walker said. "When you look nationally at the traditional school day, we can't tinker with it too much or we end up interfering with too many other things. To me, it makes sense to leave it the way that it is, or we flip high school and elementary school."
The board also voted down a proposed change that would give students the entire Thanksgiving week off.
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