Greenfield School Committee begins talks on later start times for older students

  • PROIETTI

Staff Writer
Published: 6/11/2021 5:00:27 PM

GREENFIELD — Based on research outlining optimal learning times for children of different ages, the School Committee has started to discuss the possibility of later start times at Greenfield High School and Greenfield Middle School.

The conversation stemmed from a meeting School Committee Chair Amy Proietti had with a parent and two students who expressed an interested in looking at later start times at both schools, “based on the understanding and the research that has come out … that adolescents sleep on a different clock … and may benefit from later start times.”

Currently, the start times are latest for the Greenfield School Department’s youngest students, and earliest for its oldest students.

Proietti said it’s a direction other schools have taken over the last few years, referencing in particular a decision by the Northampton School Committee to push back the school day start time for high schoolers.

“They did a couple of years of planning and discussion, and they will be implementing it in the fall,” she said.

More recently, in March, Amherst, Pelham and Amherst-Pelham Regional school committees voted in favor of a later start time for secondary school students.

Proietti said in her conversation with the parent, the focus was on the logistics of such a change, but also how it ties in with ongoing efforts to redraw the district map for elementary schools.

“And also, our focus on equity and racial justice, and making sure any changes we might make don’t have an unintended ripple effect,” she said.

School Committee member Susan Eckstrom said potentially changing the start times is a “great topic” that is worth considering.

“I know we’ve sort of independently been having these same kinds of conversations, so I think it’s a really great topic and I think it’s worthy of us taking some time to look into,” she said.

School Committee member Glenn Johnson-Mussad told the committee he was an employee of the Northampton Public Schools more than eight years ago, when the Northampton School Committee was in the early discussions of later start times.

“The superintendent was able to communicate exactly how complicated it is,” he said. “It has repercussions on everything — bussing, sports schedules, everything. Where my mind goes is, these are probably three inter-related topics — the redrawing, the racial justice and the school start time — and they also all have to do with school capacity and School Committee capacity.”

Interim Superintendent Judy Houle echoed Johnson-Mussad’s comment, saying that it might be worth waiting until a new superintendent is in place.

“Obviously, that’s the person that’s going to implement whatever the decisions are,” Houle said.

School Committee member Katie Caron added that on the list of potential ramifications are family child care arrangements, particularly high school students who are typically home to babysit their younger siblings.

“It’s a really large issue, and I think it would be at least important to get our hands on, at least, the Northampton studies,” Caron said. “Not that Northampton’s socioeconomics are completely similar to ours, but that would be a starting point for me.”

Houle said she could reach out to the Northampton district for more information.

Caron added that although three issues — redrawing, racial justice and school start times — are intertwined, they aren’t so intertwined that the same committee has to handle them each at the same time.

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner, who is also a member of the School Committee, said she supports Caron’s comments and added that the committee should be cognizant of the potential financial impact, too.

“All three of those things, combined or not combined, I think the more information we get, we can decide what is the most important way to go,” Wedegartner said. “The school start time thing seems to be the first thing we might want to work on, because it will affect some of the other things, particularly the redistricting piece.”

Although there seemed to a consensus that it is a conversation worth continuing, opinions differed on whether the committee should wait for a new superintendent to be in place before going further.

“I agree it needs a new superintendent to be part of the conversation, but I don’t want it to stop here tonight, because I think it’s a good idea,” Wedegartner said. “Let’s make sure we don’t cast it aside with all of whatever else may happen as we bring on a new superintendent. … I think the more we plan for, the better we’ll be.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne


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