Susse looks ahead on AHS rebuild, start time, calendar, budget
School Committee member Jennifer Susse writes an occasional newsletter informing the public about school-related matters. Here is the one emailed March 9. It is republished with permission:
The big school-related news remains the high school. I am super excited about this project. While the current High School certainly has some charm, its deteriorating facilities no longer meet today’s educational needs, nor the space needs of our growing enrollment.
April 10 vote expected
Here's what is happening next. On April 10, the MSBA Board of Directors is expected to vote on the project scope and budget agreement, which will also determine the state’s financial contribution to the project.
Pending a successful vote, Arlington has 120 days to secure local funding for our portion of the project. You can find out more about the MSBA (Massachusetts School Building Authority's) process here.
On April 29, there will be a vote at the Special Town Meeting to approve appropriation for the project scope and budget agreement, pending a successful debt exclusion vote by the town. The vote is scheduled for Tuesday, June 11. On the same ballot, but listed as a different question, is expected to be an operating override to fund town and school services. Expect to hear a lot more about both the debt exclusion and the operating override soon.
Pending successful votes at both Town Meeting and on June 11, the next steps are design development, construction documentation and bidding, with groundbreaking as early as July 2020. The new performing arts and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) wings are estimated to be open to students in 2022, with construction fully completed in 2024.
Calendar, later start time survey
In October, parents and teachers/staff were asked to fill out a survey giving their thoughts about possibly changes to the calendar and school start time. See the report about this survey, with charts, at the end of this column.
The upshot is that while there was consensus on a later start, especially among parents, there was little consensus on calendar changes: 68 percent of parents and 59 percent of teachers prefer to keep the start date after Labor Day. On whether to hold school during three of the four religious holidays, 58 percent of parents were in favor, but 61 percent of teachers/staff were opposed.
The School Committee and administration remain interested in exploring possible calendar changes. They are open to all ideas, including the idea that there will be no calendar changes.
The reason to explore this issue further is that for years in which Labor Day is late, and we also have snow, the last day of school is at the very end of June. For example, during the 2020-2021 school year, were we to have five snow days, our last day of school would be Tuesday, June 29. Another issue is that given the increasing diversity of Arlington’s students, prioritizing some religious tradition's holidays over others no longer feels appropriate (at least to me).
As to starting school later, 73 percent of parents were in favor of starting High School at 8:30, with 12 percent having no preference and 15 percent opposed. (Those numbers were 63 percent, 18 percent and 19 percent at the middle-school level).
Among teachers/staff, 40 percent were in favor of a later start time, 31percent had no preference and 29 percent were opposed.
The School Committee also reached out to the community for their opinions and received thoughts by both email and in person. I sat at those meetings and read through every e-mail. I estimate that we heard from about 60 households, with 9-in-10 strongly in favor of moving the start time and 1 in 10 strongly opposed. Not surprisingly, those who are indifferent between those two options did not reach out.
Unfortunately, it looks likely that there will be no start-time changes for next year. Since the survey was released teachers and staff have expressed concerns that deserve to be, and are in fact being, taken seriously.
Nevertheless, I remain optimistic that there will be a solution that works for everyone. The evidence is clear that starting secondary school at 8:30 or later decreases the sleep deficit in teens. The benefits of just a few minutes extra sleep, and at the right time (when REM sleep happens) are huge -- academically, social/emotionally, and for physical health and safety. You can find out more information on the benefits of starting school later here.
A press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending that school for middle and high school students start no earlier than 8:30 can be found here.
For the past few months, the School Committee and school administration have been working on a five-year budget plan for our schools. Fellow School Committee member Len Kardon. especially, has put a tremendous amount of work into this effort.
The goal is to create a new paradigm. Rather than begin with an appropriation number and work to squeeze the district’s needs into that amount, we would look at what the needs are over the next five years and present that information to the town.
I am optimistic that these efforts will result in additional funding for education in Arlington. This year the governor’s budget for Chapter 70 aid (the money that the state gives to local communities to fund education) was very generous to Arlington. Assuming that the final budget number is similar, and assuming that Arlington succeeds in passing an operating override, there should be additional funds for education in Arlington.
Arlington is an amazing town. Certainly, it is a town that values education and cares about our students, as evidenced by many years of support from both town leaders and its citizens.
Nevertheless, our huge enrollment growth continues to present budgetary challenges. The schools need additional funds to keep class sizes within reason, close the achievement gap between those who are succeeding academically and those who are struggling, continue to attract, retain, and develop talented staff, and continue to improve instruction so that our students are well equipped to enter a complete a post-secondary degree program, pursue a career, and be an active citizen in an ever-changing world.
Be on the look-out for outreach on the five-year budget plan in April.
If you know someone who is interested in signing up for these newsletters (which might someday be monthly), they can do so here.
Disclaimer: I try to be fair in presenting information to the public. To the extent that there is bias or error the failure is entirely mine. This is not an official School Committee communication.
Feb. 6, 2019: Official vote backs cost of rebuilt AHS at $291.4M
C a l e n d a r S u r v e y
In October of 2018 the Arlington Public Schools sent a survey to teachers/staff and parents to ask how they felt about potential school calendar and start-time changes.
There were three issues for which we were interested in surveying opinions:
1) whether to start school before Labor Day,
2) whether school should start at 8:30 AM for middle and high school students, and
3) whether we should hold school during three of the four religious’ holidays for which there is currently no school (we did not ask about Christmas Eve.).
We asked about start times because there is evidence that student outcomes—academic, health, and social/emotional—improve when older students start school later. We asked about starting school before Labor Day and holding school on religious holidays because of concern for how late in June the calendar extends when Labor Day is late and we have snow days. About half of parents and a third of the teachers/staff filled out the survey (3498 parents and 379 teachers/staff).
On the question of whether to start school before Labor Day, 68 percent of parents and 59 percent of staff said that their first choice would be to keep the current start date after Labor Day. Here are the results for parents.
And here are the results for teachers/staff:
On start time, 73 percent of parents were in favor of moving the high school start time to 8:30, 15 percent preferred the current start time, and 12 percent had no preference. Slightly fewer parents were in favor of moving the start time for middle school, with 63 percent in favor, 19 percent opposed and 18 percent having no preference.
Among teachers and staff 40 percent preferred to move the start time to 8:30, with 29 percent indicated that they prefer the 8:00 start time. Teachers and staff at Gibbs were unanimous in preferring a later start time. A much higher percentage of teachers and staff had no preference about school start times (31 percent at the high school level and 36 percent at the middle school level), likely because those respondents work at schools that would not be affected by a change at the secondary level.
On the question of whether to hold school during the religious holidays of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Good Friday, the majority of parents (58 percent) were in favor of changing the calendar, but the majority of teachers/staff (61 percent) were not.
This factual newsletter, which includes opinion, was published Sunday, March 10, 2019.
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