School Start Time Community Forum Held

Thursday evening, October 10, 2019, the Holliston School Committee and School Administrators hosted a forum to listen and share ideas with members of the community.

Thursday’s meeting was offered by the School Committee as a way to share how the Committee and School administration had arrived at the unanimous decision to change school start times for three of the town’s four schools.  Members of the community were invited to share ideas and thoughts about how the planned start times could best be implemented.

The meeting moderator was Town Moderator William Mayer who welcomed everyone and set the tone for the session by reminding all gathered that Holliston prides itself on its respectful and civil discourse.

Following a brief agenda review, Stacey Raffi, School Committee Chair, outlined the concerns that had recently reached the Committee following the May 16, 2019 decision to make the change.

Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Brad Jackson, reviewed the timeline of events / data that led to the decision to change school start times.  The precipitating events were the results from the 2016 MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey.  Dr. Jackson shared sobering statistics about stress, anxiety, and harmful thoughts / acts within the Holliston High student population.

A task force of students, parents, and educators was then convened to seek solutions to reduce the undesirable feelings and actions.  Seventeen recommendations were made by the task force.  Sixteen involved actions within the High School community which are already underway.  The seventeenth was the idea of, based on research, moving the start time for High School students later in the morning.  The School Committee and Administration spent countless hours juggling the educational, physical, and emotional needs of the school community given the realities of the facilities and transportation.  Not to mention safeguarding the ‘golden hour,’ the time following dismissal for Adams and High School students when extra help, clubs, music, etc. happen – before athletics begin.

Dr. Judith Owens, a member of the Neurology department at Harvard and Director of Sleep Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, volunteered her time to address the Holliston residents present and viewing at home, sharing her insights from 10 years of sleep research with adolescents.

Her key message is that adolescents do their best work later in the morning after a full night’s sleep.  Younger students have a ‘morningness chronotype’ that has them up and ready to learn earlier than when they traditionally go to school.

Following her remarks, Dr. Owens generously gave of her time and knowledge to answer questions from the audience before being excused by Moderator Mayer so she could enjoy the remainder of her evening.

At this point members of the audience were invited to share comments / ideas and ask questions of the School Committee and Superintendent.  Many parents approached the microphone to share their ideas / questions.  The comments and questions were wide ranging but seemed to have the following themes in common:

  • Miller School students and parents are most impacted by the change
  • Providing daycare is a financial and family time issue
  • Making sure that elementary aged students are safe at bus stops in the pre-dawn hours
  • What are the social / emotional impacts on the younger learners with this altered schedule? 
  • Will the Miller students get enough sleep?
  • Transportation logistics for buses and passenger vehicles

A Holliston resident who is an elementary teacher in Ashland, which recently moved to early start time for her school, reported that the young learners are at school on time and work diligently through their ‘morningness chronotype’ phase.  There were a few other residents who shared positive anecdotes about other communities who have made the switch.  Select Board member Tina Hein spoke briefly as the meeting wrapped up to share that an article on the upcoming Town Meeting Warrant deals with improving sidewalks in town – a key piece of school safety.

One common thread ran through most of the comments – the move to a later start time at Adams Middle School and Holliston High School makes perfect sense.

The School Committee has posted information about school start times on the School Committee web page – http://www.holliston.k12.ma.us/home/school-committee/school-start-time-subcommittee

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Chris Cain

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