King Philip High School Discusses Later Start

Jane Lebak
Issue Date: 
May, 2018
Article Body: 

“Mom, five more minutes.” Does this sound familiar? “I need my caffeine fix.” And on the flip side, “I just can’t get him out of bed in the morning.”
It’s not an uncommon scenario. The reason? Early school hours.
Enter Julie Kinney, co-owner of An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Café in Plainville, and mother of at 10th grader at King Philip High School.
“In November, I read Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker,” Kinney says. “He only touches on schools, in not even a full chapter, but it was life-changing for me.”
Kinney learned that teens typically require 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep, but the majority get a lot less, with 43% reportedly sleeping six or fewer hours. Moreover, during the adolescent years, the circadian clock shifts forward by two hours, meaning students aren’t ready to sleep until ten or later, and are only entering the most important phase of sleep at about the time they’re forced to wake up.
“Late morning sleep, 5 to 8 a.m., is REM sleep,” says Kinney. REM stands for Rapid-Eye Movement, the sleep phase during which we dream. “That’s the time they’re consolidating memories and learning. Also, it’s a time that the part of their brain that controls emotion is activated.”
REM sleep boosts problem-solving and creativity. “And then we’re waking them up and ending their sleep.”
Kinney called Patrick Francomano, former school committee chair and 26-year member of the King Philip School Committee. “I asked him if the school committee would consider looking into it and researching it, and they were open to having a community forum.”
The forum, held on March 22, addressed both the science and the potential implementation of a late school day start. Among the guests were sleep researcher Dr. Amy Wolfson, Ashland’s superintendent James Adams, and Jose Libano, the principal from Sharon High School.
“Sharon moved to 8:05 in 2010,” Kinney says. “Ashland just changed to an 8:20 start time in this past academic year.” It was important to bring in administrators as well as researchers, because while theory is compelling, the difficulty lies in real-world application.
According to the National Center for Health Research, school start times in the 1950s and 1960s were between 8:30 and 9 a.m. In 1986, the average start time had shifted to 7:56 a.m. Currently, over 10% of U.S. high schools start the school day before 7:30 a.m., nearly half before 8 a.m., and only 14.4% at 8:30 a.m. or later.
In many cases, the primary reason for the shift seems to be cost. Earlier start times allow for tiered busing schedules, requiring fewer buses and drivers.
Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Medical Association all recommend a middle and high school start time of no later than 8:30 a.m.
King Philip Regional High School’s current school day goes from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Any change would take place no earlier than the 2019/2020 school year.
“The dangers and consequences here are much more subtle than some of the other crises we’ve been asked to address,” says Francomano. “If there’s a tragic accident, the headline isn’t going to say it’s because the driver didn’t get enough sleep. We need to really step up and recognize the consequences of the lack of sleep in students.”
The combination of delayed start and longer sleep yields many benefits, such as improved academics, better concentration, reduced risk-taking behaviors, and better attendance. Communities also observe fewer teen auto accidents.
“The science around the benefits of later start times is pretty convincing,” says Michael Gee, current Chair of the School Committee. “It was also helpful to learn that even an incremental change—say, a half hour versus an hour or more—can produce benefits.”
There are drawbacks, however. “The most important consideration when deciding to change the school start times would be the impact on busing,” says Lisa Mobley, Principal of King Philip High School. “Second to the busing consideration would be the impact it would have on the teacher contract.”
Francomano says, “Current teacher contracts define the school day, beginning at a certain time and ending at a certain time.”
Mobley, however, stresses that, “These are not roadblocks, but items that must be addressed if the change of start time is to be successful.”
Others have brought up more considerations, such as the impact on high school sports, after-school jobs, and the difficulty for working parents who will still have to commute at the same time.
Mobley talks about some of the creative problem-solving already in motion, such as the idea of a “warrior block.”
“This block would allow students to access extra help during the school day, work collaboratively with their peers, have extended lab time, and also provide opportunities for teacher professional development and professional learning committees. Adding fifteen minutes to the school day and carving out the additional minutes of passing-time and current blocks would allow this to occur.”
This kind of flexibility and problem-solving will be key to devising a workable solution.
Kinney stresses James Adams’ summary of the issue. “The goal is to make the biggest difference for the greatest number of students.”
In order to make a shift both seamless and helpful, it will be important to examine the impact on everything from traffic patterns to after-school jobs to childcare for working parents.
Michael Gee says, “Community and stakeholder input will be critical to the decision-making process. The means and methods would be determined down the road.”
Francomano adds, “It’s actually a wonderful opportunity to look at the school day. The school is part of the fabric of the community, and the more we recognize that, the more effective again we’ll be in delivery of services to all constituents.”
Gee is taking this one piece at a time. “The immediate next step is to discuss the matter at our annual ‘retreat’ meeting in July, which is where the school committee frames out our goals and agenda for the coming year.”
Until then, we’ll just have to sleep on it.
For more information about student needs and how they relate to school start times, visit