A later high school start time will be explored, elementary homework guidelines will be updated, and pathways to college and careers will be promoted based on the work of three subcommittees this past year. These groups were part of the district’s Instructional Program Advisory Council (IPAC), which includes parents, students, residents, teachers and administrators. They delivered reports and recommendations on these topics to the Board of Education on June 5.
School Start Times
The issue of high school start times and the importance of sleep for the physical and mental well-being of teenagers has been widely researched and discussed in communities across the country. IPAC’s School Start Times Subcommittee reviewed existing research and Niskayuna High School-specific data as part of its work. In the Board presentation, committee Chair Deanna Bouton, a parent, noted that while eight to ten hours of sleep per night are generally recommended for teenagers, 72 percent of Niskayuna High School students surveyed for an AP English research project this year are getting less than seven hours. The high school currently starts at 7:40 a.m. and buses pick up many students well before 7 a.m. Schools that have made their start time later have seen academic achievement, mental health, behavioral and attendance benefits for students.
The subcommittee identified obstacles or challenges to implementing a later start time, including the district’s bus schedule structure for all three levels, the impact on the high school schedule and the implications for sports and music. (Middle school students currently have band and orchestra at the high school at 7:30 a.m.) Bouton also highlighted the importance of engaging families, faculty and staff, on this issue and the potential to coordinate a move to a later start time with other Suburban Council school districts.
Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. said the group’s next steps include working closely with the Transportation and Athletic departments, the school and other stakeholders to identify implementation details and how the obstacles might be addressed. This work is expected to take place during the 2018-19 year and is necessary before any decision can be made.
A subcommittee studying the topic of homework this year reviewed existing research, held focus groups with Niskayuna parents and faculty, and conducted a survey. Subcommittee co-chairs Jacquie Gallo, a parent, and Shelley Baldwin-Nye, Glencliff Principal, noted that just as with the research, there were varied perspectives on homework within the community. This included a range of opinions on the importance of homework and the types of homework that are most valuable.
The committee recommended an effort to update the existing elementary homework guidelines and better communicate them within the district and with parents. Dr. Tangorra said this will take place in the coming months.
The phrase “multiple pathways” is intended to recognize that there are many different “paths” that students can take to success in college, the workforce and life. As the world and the economy change, the Multiple Pathways Subcommittee emphasized the importance of ensuring students have the skills and experiences in demand by employers today, are exposed to a wider variety of learning opportunities to help them make informed decisions about their futures, and are prepared to become lifelong learners. Led by co-chairs Christopher Shortt, a parent, and Christopher Delano, a parent and Niskayuna High School physics teacher, the group conducted gap analysis that assessed Niskayuna against indicators developed by the national “Redefining Readiness” initiative. In general, the committee found that the district has a strong system in place for college readiness. While there are many opportunities in place to gain career readiness skills, including through career and technical education, there is a lack of widespread awareness of them.
The committee’s recommendations included developing a “pathways” communications plan to reach students and parents prior to high school and a focus on the transition to college.