Dozens of parents attended the October 21 Onteora Central School District Board of Education meeting at Woodstock Primary School, to comment on a proposal to institute later starting times for secondary students. A cordial, often entertaining debate broke out among parents either for or against secondary students starting classes at a later hour but all agreed the district handled the communication of the proposal poorly.
When the 2014/15 Superintendent’s goals were finalized and released to the public, goal number one read, “Based on the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics and considerable other data-based research, plan and prepare for later start times for secondary students for the 2015-2016 school year, using an 8:45 a.m.-9 a.m. target.” Currently classes begin at 7:40 a.m. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends teens get 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep in order to improve physical and mental wellbeing and start school at a later time due to biological changes that put teens on a later sleep clock. A conflict arises as the proposed change may interfere with afterschool activities and BOCES programs.
The proposal for later start times began as a part of the Board’s 2012 goals. During Board of Education meetings in recent months, 2014/15 goals were worked on, but generally with no public attendance.
School board president Tony Fletcher took the blame for the lack of public knowledge of the proposal. “Clearly in regard to communicating our desires to the later middle/high school start times, we failed,” he said, “and as board president I take full responsibility and I apologize wholeheartedly for that failure to communicate this particular priority. The buck stops right here.” On several occasions throughout the meeting Fletcher invited people to attend Board meetings, including committee meetings, noting that all is public and said everything including the process of the Board’s planning gets posted on the website.
Parent and past Board Trustee Maxanne Resnick said during public commentary, “You need to modify your superintendent goal to take away the language that seems committed to a September 2015 start date. If not, you will continue to scare, anger and disenfranchise your community.”
Later, during the meeting, after most people went home, trustees changed the goal wording to include, “This goal acknowledges the need to factor into account current elementary start time, BOCES attendance and extra-curricular activities, and the need to engage the community in the planning process.” The target to implement for the 2015/16 school-year was removed.
Trustees additionally created a committee to review the feasibility of later start times, consisting of parents, teaching staff, a board member and students from the Middle/High School.
Many area schools in Ulster County are beginning to weigh the pros and cons of a later school start time and a small handful of people from other districts attended the meeting.
“Needless to say we are working on this as well,” said New Paltz school board trustee Steve Greenfield. “I submitted this to my board at the end of my first term in 2011 and I’m very sensitive to this timeline. In my case, I’ve been working on this four years already and yet I also know the parents are hearing it for the first time.”
Rondout Valley board trustee James Ayres said Rondout is considering a similar action and decided to ask the students their opinion since it primarily affects their schedules. “We’ve taken our two student representatives and we’ve given them the task of a student survey,” he said. Onteora High School teachers Brian Connolly and Rich DeRuvo both spoke against the late start time proposals, siting problems with special education scheduling through BOCES and competitive athletics. DeRuvo said, “To begin in September of 2015, failure is almost certain. Parents, teachers, students are yet to be convinced that this is right for Onteora and there are only several weeks before scheduling begins for next year.”
Parent Melissa Pierson supported the time change. “Anecdotally, I feel about as close to being cruel to my son when I raise him from the midst of a deep sleep before he’s finished, all but kicking him downstairs into the dawn.”
The board agreed to search for a new trustee to replaced recently resigned board member Tom Hickey. At a previous board meeting, trustees contemplated the necessity of bringing in a seventh person or waiting until the next election cycle. “I think we should put a call out for board members,” said Trustee Ann McGillicuddy, “interview community members who are interested and I think if we were to appoint a trustee — it’s eight months before the next election — it could be a really good learning period for that person.” Fletcher came up with a list of questions for people interested in becoming a board member. “We could offer some kind of introduction if they want to apply,” he said. “I was thinking something along the lines of, introduce yourself, tell a little about yourself, what you understand the work of a board office could be, what you could bring to a school board, and which committees you might be suitable for.” Interested people can send submissions to District Clerk Fern Amster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
School Lunch Manager Christine Downs presented the latest on the school lunch program and changes. Due to new nutritional standards, changes implemented include the elimination of trans-fats; bread products were changed to whole wheat; fresh fruit has become available in meals or al a carte; there are more fresh vegetables, brown rice, and less salt and butter. Other changes not required by the new nutritional standards include the use of a Convotherm oven instead of serving fried foods; elimination of high fructose corn syrup and substitute sugars; a new veggie bar; district made hummus, homemade soups, increased vegetarian options, and yogurt parfaits using Stonyfield farms organic yogurt. Downs said, “We’ve changed recipes to decrease fat and sodium and are just trying to make it as healthy as possible. But the whole time were doing this, were talking to the kids saying, how did you like this, come with ideas, if you have suggestions.”
Mathew Crider and Carole O’Neill of ECC Technologies, a consulting firm will be conducting a technology audit throughout the district. After a general run-through of the district technology services offered to students and staff, Crider said he was impressed. “In general, your district compares very favorably in what I’ve seen throughout New York State,” Crider said. “The network is first class, it’s a Cisco added infrastructure, it’s been fully refreshed, the wireless is state of the art and it’s off to a good start.” Their full findings will be presented November 18.
A rumor began to percolate of a feared child kidnapping when the grade-five class that was due to spend three days at the Ashoken Center was abruptly canceled. Superintendent Dr. Spiegel-McGill said the rumor was false. The Ashoken Center postponed the trip at the last minute due to the discovery of bed bugs. It will be rescheduled once all is clear of the critters.