Columbia Public Schools Could See Change in Start Times

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COLUMBIA - The Columbia Public School Board will vote Monday on an issue that could change more than just which teacher Columbia Public Schools students have when they return to school in the fall.

The school board votes tonight on a proposal that could change start times across the district to accomodate a new three-tier bus system instead of the current two-tier system.

Rock Bridge High School Principal Mark Maus said administrators are also looking at sleep studies and other research to determine the best move for Columbia Public Schools. 

"One of the biggest things is, we're looking at the research, which is telling us that adolescents, and we all remember from high school, or I get to see them every day, they don't wake up as early as other students," Maus said.

But with any change, Maus said, comes many concerns. 

"We're gonna have to make practice schedule adjustments, we're gonna have to take things into account like daylight saving time, when do pools open, when we can get on the golf course, those types of things," he said.

He also said he cannot really predict if moving after-school activities to the morning will affect membership of certain clubs and school groups because it is up to the students to decide what is best for them.

When it comes to Rock Bridge High School, you can't ignore its athletic programs. When asked if the changes would negatively impact the Bruins' athletic program, Maus said he is staying optimistic.

"I don't see it affecting our ability to compete, I don't see it affecting our ability to get contracts with other schools and set up games. We of the realities is that some of our students, when we travel east and west, cause that's where the other big high schools are, are going to miss more school," Maus said. He also said he knows there is going to be some adjustments that need to be made in terms of field and court time. "

That will be a challenge, but we have a great group of coaches that can manage it," he said.

Hickman High School Principal Tracey Conrad said having students come in at 9 a.m. could mean positive changes in how students perform while in school.

"Starting early has an impact on achievement. So, if we can start later and let them get more of an entire sleep cycle under their belt before they come to school, then we think that we'll have some positive effect on achievement," she said.

She also said high schoolers are the only group of students who could handle a later start time and a later dismissal.

"In thinking about who has the most flexibility in terms of transportation, in terms of taking care of themselves and not having to be...not have a babysitter, have some sort of daycare, it makes sense that students that are older in high school can do so," Conrad said.

But it's not just Columbia high school students who will have to adjust their daily schedules. Elementary school students could see an earlier start time under this plan. The schools under consideration are: Lee, Midway Heights, New Haven, Ridgeway and Benton, Rock Bridge, and Two Mile Prairie elementary schools. These schools would be included on the first tier of the new system because they have the longest bus routes.

Two Mile Prairie Principal Patricia Raynor said even though her school was placed on the first tier, she would have been okay with being on any tier. However, she thinks being on the first tier will do wonders for her students' achievement. 

"Children, they just do better in the morning. They're tired by 2:45, and, and you know, it makes it a long day but they're raring to go in the morning," Raynor said.

She also said she doesn't anticipate there being any problems in terms of operations because of this change.

"Whatever the change is, we adapt and we get used to it. I think that, um, really, as far as my feelings for it, it didn't matter if we were the late arrival or the early arrival, it's whatever you get used to," she said.

Raynor also said one thing about getting out earlier is being able to get to doctor appointments and other appointments since the school is far from the center of the city.

"Usually by the time we get out of here, it's so far that everything is closed by 4 or 5," she said.

Raynor also said she thinks the first couple of weeks, and getting up in the mornings, will be challenging.  But, she thinks everyone will be excited about starting school, so they will probably be up and ready to go anyway.

"Once we get used to it, you won't know any difference," she said.

She also said she hasn't heard anything negative from parents, and said she normally would hear from parents if daycare were an issue with this change.

Some are asking if this change in start times could be interpreted as a busing system trying to dictate their children's education? According to First Student spokesperson Timothy Stokes, the busing system, and even the busing company, shouldn't be a factor in that decision.

Stokes told KOMU 8 News in a statement that all decisions regarding school bus schedules are decided by the school district, and that regardless of its decision to alter the school start times, "First Student will be prepared to accommodate those changes and continue safely transporting the district's students to and from school daily."

Hickman High School Principal Tracey Conrad said she doesn't think the bus schedule is driving our educational system, but rather being smart keepers of the money and doing the most economically feasible, efficient and cost-effective thing with transportation.

"We all know that there's only so much money, and so, if they end up spending more money on a two-tier system that doesn't run as efficiently, then we know the money comes out of someplace. And then that will, in turn, impact instruction," Conrad said. 

But Maus said you can't have a conversation about Columbia Public Schools without talking about its buses.

"Busing is a consideration, absolutely one hundred percent part of the pie as we put all of the pieces together, or the puzzle as we put all the pieces together. We can't, nor is it feasible, to have 250 buses driving on Columbia streets at 7:15 to 8:00 in the morning delivering all those students to school," he said.

He said Columbia Public Schools will have to switch to a three-tier busing system as Battle High School gains students, and Columbia gains another comprehensive high school.

"We have the three largest attendance areas to go pick students up for," he said.

He also cited other school districts across the country that currently use three, or even four, tier busing systems as a reason for the change. 

"It's one of the considerations we have to take into account as we make the decision," he said.

Maus said he thinks if you were to ask high school students and high school coaches, even some of the staff what they'd want, they'd probably say we would love to be in that middle tier. But, he said, it's just not possible because Rock Bridge and the other high schools have the largest pick-up areas in the district.

Maus also said having a later start time and offering students a more flexible schedule could be a great model for what they may experience after they graduate high school.

"For me, it's exciting to think about looking at high school differently and almost more of a campus-style approach, where some kids may come early, they may come in at nine, someone may take a late class and not come till 10:30, it's really becoming almost more like a small college," Maus said.

Conrad said she knows change is hard, and this is different than Hickman has ever done it in the past.

"No matter what you do, it's not going to suit every individual. What we have to do is look at the system as a whole, and do whatever we can to meet the needs of most of our students," Conrad said.

The school board meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the administration building on West Worley Street. When asked if he would change anything about the plan if he could, Maus said he can't think of anything that could work better for Rock Bridge than what is being proposed.

"I think after looking at the committee's work and as they've worked since the January board meeting till now, I don't think I would change anything. When I talk about it being more complicated, it's really only to, as we look at early hours and possibly late hours, it's just somewhat thinking more flexibly with our time," he said.