Viewpoint

CMS start-time stubbornness neglects students

Susan Plaza, center, of the School Time Task Force committee, addresses the committee in June 2014.
Susan Plaza, center, of the School Time Task Force committee, addresses the committee in June 2014. ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

From Susan Plaza, a member of the School Time Task Force for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, in response to “CMS won’t support shortening the elementary school day” (March 26):

Members of the School Time Task Force are deeply disappointed in the recent statements by Superintendent Ann Clark and the BOE regarding our recommendations put forth in June 2014 after months of study and deliberation.

These results were supported by exhaustive survey data received from nearly 20,000 CMS teachers, staff, and parents and aligned with findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The recommendations address serious CMS deficiencies in the welfare of its approximately 150,000 children including the emerging epidemics of child obesity, ADHD and sleep deprivation.

Survey results indicate CMS’s children are some of the most sleep deprived students in the United States with 85 to 90 percent of its adolescents sitting in early morning classrooms with marginal awareness. Overall, our recommendations put children first while still advancing CMS’s academic mission.

In 2010, CMS added 45 minutes to the elementary day and explained that the extra time would “come from teacher planning and preparation time.” This maneuver allowed CMS to avoid paying elementary teachers additional compensation. These teachers now fall distressingly short of the state mandated goal of five hours per week of planning time. Ms. Clark states she will not cut instructional time when “a number of schools need to improve test scores.”

In the last 4 years, no data have emerged showing significant academic improvement; it’s not surprising that 88 percent of elementary teachers surveyed see little value in this failed experiment. The extended day also created a 4:15 p.m. dismissal time. While this resulted in a financial savings, the budget did not drive the decision to lengthen the day as merely shifting these schools to a later start time would have achieved the same savings.

CMS stated that the late bell has not impacted teacher retention yet turnover at these schools has doubled. This increase is alarming!

Last September, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy advocating that the nation move start times to 8:30 a.m. or later for middle and high schools. CMS leadership is negligent and shortsighted to ignore this and is academically handicapping our adolescents in the classroom, as well as putting them in harm’s way without adequate sleep for increased injury in sports and on our congested roadways.

Many districts in North Carolina and South Carolina have moved to later start times, including Fort Mill (8:30), Forsythe County (8:55), and Guilford County (8:55.)

Board of Education members state that “delaying high school start times would cost millions of dollars.” This comment has little basis in fact; CMS high schools could move to later start times for little cost if other schools shifted earlier. This is the strategy used elsewhere in North Carolina and the United States, and it is nonsense to argue it would not work for CMS.

There are many ways to do what is best for CMS students, yet CMS leadership simply doesn’t have the will to consider the broader well-being of its children.

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