Future of Schools

High schools could start later, but Indianapolis families see practical problems

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Students in Indianapolis’ largest district will likely start and end school at different times next year. But when it comes to choosing a new schedule, the district is facing tension between research supporting later start times for high school students and the practical challenges facing families.

At a series of community forums this week, Indianapolis Public Schools asked parents to weigh in on a new school schedule for next year. One of the essential questions facing families is whether the district should have elementary school students start earlier in order to allow high schoolers to begin school later. Currently, most high schools start first at 7:20 a.m.

Having later start times for high school students could have a broad range of benefits. A federally funded study found that when school started later, students did better on several measures, including mental health and attendance, and at some schools, scores on standardized tests rose. The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that high schools delay their start times to 8:30 a.m. or later. Citing that research, some members of the Indianapolis Public Schools board have urged the district to consider changing its high school start times.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee highlighted his own experience as the parent of a 13-year-old.

“I can definitely see the difference in how we wake him up in the morning now, and what that experience was like when he was a 5- or 6-year-old,” Ferebee said. “He would pop up in the morning then.”

In addition to the possibility of moving high school start times later, the district may change school and bus schedules for practical reasons.

Many students will likely travel farther under a high school plan that will close nearly half the district’s campuses and allow students to select their schools based on academic focus rather than neighborhood. To make bus rides shorter for high schoolers, the district is considering increasing how far they might walk to stops and reducing the number of stops each bus makes, said transportation director Manny Mendez.

The district is also grappling with a shortage of bus drivers that makes it difficult to sustain the current schedule, which has three different start and end times. A new contract approved by the board last week, which raises the base pay for bus drivers to $19.10, would help with that issue, Mendez said.

“We just do not have enough drivers,” Mendez said.

Since the same buses have to serve both high school and elementary school routes, any shift could present practical problems. If high schools start later, that would push elementary school schedules much earlier.

For several parents at the community meeting Thursday, that was a deal breaker.

Miki Hamstra, who has three sons in elementary school in the district, said if her children went to school earlier, it would put her in a childcare crunch in the afternoon.

“I totally support the sleep studies, but the problem is we don’t have a real option for that that would benefit the whole district,” said Hamstra, a doctoral student studying the science of learning. “Research is awesome, but we don’t have the resources to benefit from that.”

But Derrick Gant, a parent at Crispus Attucks High School, said he wants his daughter to continue going to high school early because it will prepare her for the workplace.

“We are prepping our children to be young adults,” Gant said. “So if we are pushing back the time for them to start school, that means we are pushing back the time they can go into work.”

Gant’s daughter Jerrice, who is a junior, said she is concerned about elementary school students walking to buses when it is still dark out, and she wants high schoolers to get home first to watch over their younger siblings.

“I want to keep it exactly how it is now,” she said.

Proposed start times

Option one

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 7:30 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 9:55 a.m., and end at 4:30 p.m.

Option two

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 9:55 a.m. and end at 4:55 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 8:05 a.m. and end at 2:40 p.m.

Option three

High, middle, and innovation schools start at 8:00 a.m. and end at 3:00 p.m.

Elementary schools start at 10:25 a.m. and end at 5:00 p.m.

For more information, visit the district website.

The New Chancellor

Tell us: What should the new chancellor, Richard Carranza, know about New York City schools?

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
A student at P.S. 69 Journey Prep in the Bronx paints a picture. The school uses a Reggio Emilia approach and is in the city's Showcase Schools program.

In a few short weeks, Richard Carranza will take over the nation’s largest school system as chancellor of New York City’s public schools.

Carranza, who has never before worked east of the Mississippi, will have to get up to speed quickly on a new city with unfamiliar challenges. The best people to guide him in this endeavor: New Yorkers who understand the city in its complexity.

So we want to hear from you: What does Carranza need to know about the city, its schools, and you to help him as he gets started April 2. Please fill out the survey below; we’ll collect your responses and share them with our readers and Carranza himself.

The deadline is March 23.

buses or bust?

Mayor Duggan says bus plan encourages cooperation. Detroit school board committee wants more details.

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Fourth-graders Kintan Surghani, left, and Rachel Anderson laugh out the school bus window at Mitchell Elementary School in Golden.

Detroit’s school superintendent is asking for more information about the mayor’s initiative to create a joint bus route for charter and district students after realizing the costs could be higher than the district anticipated.

District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a school board subcommittee Friday that he thought the original cost to the district was estimated to be around $25,000 total. Instead, he said it could cost the district roughly between $75,000 and a maximum of $125,000 for their five schools on the loop.

“I think there was a misunderstanding….” Vitti said. “I think this needs a deeper review…The understanding was that it would be $25,000 for all schools. Now, there are ongoing conversations about it being $15,000 to $25,000 for each individual school.”

The bus loop connecting charter and district schools was announced earlier this month by Mayor Mike Duggan as a way to draw kids back from the suburbs.

Duggan’s bus loop proposal is based on one that operates in Denver that would travel a circuit in certain neighborhoods, picking up students on designated street corners and dropping them off at both district and charter schools.

The bus routes — which Duggan said would be funded by philanthropy, the schools and the city — could even service afterschool programs that the schools on the bus route could work together to create.

In concept, the finance committee was not opposed to the idea. But despite two-thirds of the cost being covered and splitting the remaining third with charters, they were worried enough about the increased costs that they voted not to recommend approval of the agreement to the full board.  

Vitti said when he saw the draft plan, the higher price made him question whether the loop would be worth it.

“If it was $25,000, it would be an easier decision,” he said.

To better understand the costs and benefits and to ultimately decide, Vitti said he needs more data, which will take a few weeks. 

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the district’s hesitation was a sign they were performing their due diligence before agreeing to the plan.

“I’m not at all deterred by this,” Wiley said. She said the district, charters, and city officials have met twice, and are “working in the same direction, so that we eliminate as many barriers as we can.”

Duggan told a crowd earlier this month at the State of the City address that the bus loop was an effort to grab the city’s children – some 32,500 – back from suburban schools.

Transportation is often cited as one of the reasons children leave the city’s schools and go to other districts, and charter leaders have said they support the bus loop because they believe it will make it easier for students to attend their schools.

But some board members had doubts that the bus loop would be enough to bring those kids back, and were concerned about giving charters an advantage in their competition against the district to increase enrollment.

“I don’t know if transportation would be why these parents send their kids outside of the district,” Angelique Peterson-Mayberry said. “If we could find out some of the reasons why, it would add to the validity” of implementing the bus loop.

Board member LaMar Lemmons echoed other members’ concerns on the impact of the transportation plan, and said many parents left the district because of the poor quality of schools under emergency management, not transportation.

“All those years in emergency management, that drove parents to seek alternatives, as well as charters,” he said. “I’m hesitant to form an unholy alliance with the charters for something like this.”