By Noah Alatza
The Westfield Washington Board of School Trustees met March 5 and voted unanimously to approve a change in school start times for the 2019-20 academic year.
School times will be 7:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for elementary students, 8:45 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. for intermediate and middle school students and 8:35 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. for high school students. Currently, elementary students start at 9:10 a.m., intermediate and middle school students start at 7:56 a.m. and high school students start at 7:58 a.m.
Director of Operations Joe Montalone said school start times have been discussed since he joined Westfield Washington Schools in 2001. He said the district gathered input from calendar surveys, school and district leadership teams, school board work sessions, PTO leadership meetings and key communicator meetings, among other sources.
Montalone said WWS planned to change the times six years ago, but former Supt. Mark Keen decided to retire and did not want to implement the proposal at the end of his tenure.
Montalone discussed the benefits of adjusting the schedule, which include student academic gains, increased class attentiveness and fewer disciplinary referrals. He also noted decreased rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, obesity and drug and alcohol abuse.
Montalone said other benefits are better traffic flow around the schools and ease congestion, especially along the Ind. 32 corridor.
District officials shared numerous studies, including from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine which recommends teenagers sleep eight to 10 hours per night.
Zionsville Community Schools changed start times tow years ago. Noblesville Schools plan to implement something similar next school year.
“In 24 to 36 months, a majority of, if not all of, the metro school districts in Hamilton County and in our conference will be doing this,” Montalone said. “When you make a change like this, it affects everyone differently.”
Westfield Washington Township board member Erica Strahm and Westfield High School student Alex Ulsas spoke during the public hearing.
Strahm said she likes what she saw during the presentation but worries about the potential impact that sports and other activities might have, especially for parents who have to wait to get off work.
Ulsas told the board that he is concerned students enrolled in the J Everett Light Career Center won’t have enough time in their third period classes before leaving for the career campus.
Montalone said school officials will find a way to accommodate those needs and that JEL and Ivy Tech are working on a way to be flexible with the new start times.
Board President Duane Lutz said the decision to change start times was not made lightly.
“We have been looking at this for a while now, and we have more research and evidence now,” he said. “My support is based on evidence I have seen, and I have no doubt (there will be) some adjustments made. This isn’t going to be easy, but that doesn’t make it wrong.”
The next school board meeting is April 16 at the Washington Woods Community Room Door 4A, 17950 Grassy Branch Rd.