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Chester County Press

U-CF School Board hears recommendation for delayed school start

04/18/2017 11:28AM ● By J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

One of the most thoroughly examined proposals in the history of the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District will move to a School Board vote next week, and at the board's April 17 work session, almost two hours were spent hearing about the findings surrounding a delayed school start time.

District superintendent John Sanville opened the meeting by saying, “I want to thank all the stakeholders who served on the committees. It really was a tremendous amount of work. This really started with a board goal that was approved last August. The board charged the administration to form a committee and engage stakeholders to study the benefits and challenges of modifying the school start times. We had folks who were both for and against a change in school start times, and everyone's voice was heard.”

The initiative grew out of documented research that showed that young adolescents and teens require longer sleep cycles, and that they suffer academically when school work and activities cut their sleep time short. Many districts across the country have adopted later start times to better match the sleep cycles of adolescents, with positive results.

John Nolen, the district's assistant superintendent, said, “We met with students, the transportation department, all of our faculties and staff. We also did a survey and got more than 2,000 responses, which is really fantastic. We did read every comment from the public. Tonight, we're going to bring our recommendation to the School Board and the community.”

In a PowerPoint presentation, Nolen said that the committee supports and the administration is recommending to start and end high school and middle schools 25 minutes later, and to start and end the elementary schools 15 minutes later. That would mean middle school and high school would start at 8 a.m. and last until 2:43 p.m. (the current schedule is 7:35 a.m. to 2:18 p.m.). Elementary schools would start at 9:10 a.m. and last until 3:40 p.m. (the current schedule is 8:55 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.).

Nolen said the benefits would primarily be better student health, better learning, and a less-rushed morning for families. The challenges, he said, would be the impact on students with after-school sports, activities or jobs; an impact on childcare logistics and costs; and a change in work hours for school staff.

The annual cost of implementing the later start time is projected to be between $30,000 and $40,000, to add bus runs to make the afternoon schedule work for elementary students, and for additional bus runs for sports teams, particularly in the spring.

The administration is recommending starting the new schedule in the coming school year, 2017-2018.

Among others who spoke to the board, Unionville High School principal Jim Conley said, “Why are we doing this? We're doing this for the health of our kids. I talk to my students all the time, and we have a lot of stressed-out kids. It's not healthy for them. That's why we're doing this. It's not perfect. This impacts families outside of the school day. The 25-minute change is valuable – it's not the full hour that was recommended, but as one of my students said, 'Hey, we're halfway there. If we do it, maybe other school districts will get on board.' This option has the greatest impact with the least interruptions.”

Sanville, citing the survey results, admitted, “We do not have a strong mandate to move forward with this. I would have loved to have seen 70 percent of everyone say we want to do this. I think what we have is a bell curve, where we have folks in the middle who don't feel all that strongly, and as you move out to the ends of the bell curve, you have folks who feel very strongly on either end. I've read all the comments and all the input. But on balance, I think this is better. I am open to folks to disagree with me. We've been open to feedback from our community and tried to address concerns, and now the administration team and I bring this recommendation to the board.”

Board president Victor Dupuis said he supports the later start time, and clarified that due to bus schedules, some students in the district are being picked up as early as 6:17 a.m. The board members presented varying opinions on the issue. They will formally vote at next week's Curriculum and Educational Technology meeting, on April 17.

In other business, the board heard details about adding a new position for a full-time supervisor of athletics in the district, which will not require additional staffing, but would place one person in charge of athletics for grades 7 to 12 to implement a more cohesive overview of the athletics curriculum. The board will vote on the position next week.

Robert Cochran, the district's director of business and operations, submitted a proposal for the purchase of three vehicles for the district, one of which would be a new box truck to replace a 1995 vehicle that is heavily used by several departments but which has become unreliable, Cochran said. The total retail cost of the two transit vans and one box truck would be $120,000, but the district is getting a negotiated price of just over $92,000.

Cochran submitted the full document for next year's district budget to the board members, and summarized it by saying the total expenditures for next year are projected to be $84,937,628. To fund that, the proposed budget calls for a tax of 28.41 mills in Chester County, which is a 2.6 percent increase over last year. The Delaware County tax would be 23.63 mills, an increase of 0.3 percent over last year. “The overall weighted average is 2.16 percent,” Cochran said. “This is the maximum without requiring any use of exception dollars, and it represents just shy of a 3 percent increase in the budgeted expenditures. It is within the Act One Index.”

The final budget will be voted on in June. Documents related to the delayed school start time and the proposed budget are available through the district's website, www.ucfsd.org, under the “board documents” tab.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.


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