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Chester County Press

U-CF School Board approves teachers and sets goals as new school year begins

08/16/2016 11:00AM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

In a short but productive meeting on Aug. 15, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board laid the groundwork for the school year, which is coming up quickly. At the beginning of the meeting, district superintendent John Sanville said, “Football started last week, all the other sports teams started today. We are off and running. Tomorrow we will welcome 28 new teachers to the district for induction, and then next week we'll have close to 400 folks here for convocation. On the 29th of this month, we've got roughly 4,000 students happily walking into buildings across the district. So I'm sorry to say it, but yes, summer is over. Welcome back.”

The board approved hiring 26 teachers and staff members for the new school year, as well as 38 reclassifications of teachers and staff members – all positions that had been approved at the board's June meeting.

Long-range issues were discussed as well, beginning with board member Jeff Hellrung, who has been working with student teams on the issue of delaying school start times for high school students in the district. In opening remarks, he laid out the initial skepticism about the danger of smoking and the value of mandatory seat belt use, and contrasted those issues with the emerging science surrounding sleep deprivation's effects on young people. “Lack of sleep has effects on mood, on energy levels and cognitive performance,” Hellrung said. “What does this have to do with our students? Because of biological changes going on in their bodies starting at around age 13, combined with early bus schedules and early school starting times, they are even more at risk of developing sleep deficits than adults, and those deficits can be even more dangerous for them.”

Board member Carolyn Daniels is also part of the effort to study the delayed start time. “Our district has been at the forefront of this issue for the past two years,” she said. “After looking at the data and this movement which is occurring all across the country, our district has created Unionville's Healthy Hours Committee, and is weighing the pros and cons of potentially changing the start times. The date is not set, but there will be a community information night for families to come out and learn about the science behind a delayed school start time.

“The committee wants to be clear that no decisions have been made,” Daniels emphasized, “and this process is simply an investigation to test the feasibility of implementing a start change. The goal of this committee will be to eventually make a recommendation to the board.”

Ken Batchelor, the assistant to the superintendent, added, “We're just developing the action plan on how we, as a district, are going to investigate this – to see whether or not this would be a feasible change. We as a board have been hearing from our students about the science behind this, but our community has not, so we want to have that evening in early fall to talk about the science and why we're investigating this.

“We've asked our transportation department to start thinking about what would some adjustments possibly look like,” Batchelor continued. “If we feel that the science is compelling -- which right now we do -- what does a change look like? How does it impact the community? We're looking at child care issues for parents, we're looking at school start time when it comes to athletics. The administration would like to have a recommendation by February on whether an adjustment to the schedule is feasible.

“What a lot of districts nationwide have done is flip elementary school start times with high school start times,” Batchelor said. “All options are on the table for discussion. After the meeting in the fall to discuss the science, we are going to call in a larger community to join us -- for or against -- to have some models to put forward in October or November.”

The board also unanimously approved the 2016-17 District Goals, which have been discussed for several months by the board and administration.

“The only adjustment since a week ago is that the 10-year financial plan has been moved up to being a goal, and the strategic communications plan has been moved down to being an area of focus,” Sanville said.

The list “includes five continuing goals, two emerging goals, and five areas of focus,” he said.

The list of “continuing goals” includes forming a Student Wellness Committee, continuing to roll out a technology plan that puts Chromebook devices into the hands of students at the middle school and ultimately the high school, determining whether the district wants to implement the International Baccalaureate or Capstone programs, and focusing on human resources within the district. The list of “emerging goals” includes the school start time initiative, and developing a strategic communications plan. The “areas of focus” include: Continuing ongoing support of resources and commitment to the STEM Initiative; following Standard Curriculum Cycle Review of the academic program; a comprehensive review of the K-2 academic program; and developing a comprehensive plan.

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