WEST SPRINGFIELD — Kids may have to wake up a little earlier next year, after the School Committee approved a 2024-25 calendar with earlier start times for most of the town’s public schools.

The 10-minute earlier start at West Springfield High School has proved controversial among some parents, Superintendent Stefania Raschilla acknowledged at the committee’s Feb. 13 meeting. The new calendar shifts the school day from the current schedule of 7:20 a.m. to 2 p.m. to a new schedule of 7:10 a.m. to 1:50 p.m.

One high school parent, Kristen Debian, told the committee that starting the day earlier ignores scientific research about when teenagers are most alert and able to learn.

“You’re actually making the children not succeed,” Debian said. “They are going to have a lower percentage, a 4.5% [drop] in their actual grades. Their anxiety is going to increase. Their tardiness is going to increase. I kind of wish we had a little more say, as parents, prior to this vote. I understand the busing, and things like that, but why not prioritize our high school children?”

She noted that starting at 7:10 a.m. means children have to be ready even earlier, particularly those who drive to school and need to get there early to get a parking space.

School Committee member Diana Coyne said she’s seen some of the same research suggesting that most teens would benefit from a later-morning start.

“It’s definitely better for the kids if they were later,” she said.

Raschilla said that “ideally,” she would have shifted the high school later, but several factors make that change difficult. The same buses that carry high schoolers are reused immediately for middle school, elementary school and early education bus routes, so a later high school start would require contracting for more buses and more drivers. Pushing high school dismissal later in the day would also interfere with afternoon sports games, after-school jobs for some students, and responsibilities at home, such as getting back in time to meet and supervise younger siblings.

An earlier high school start will allow West Springfield to modify the schedule at the middle and elementary schools, particularly in the afternoons, when there have been persistent problems with buses running late, Raschilla said. In the current schedule, there is only 20 minutes between middle school dismissal and elementary school dismissal, which doesn’t give bus drivers enough time to complete their middle school routes and pick up elementary students on time.

“There’s a domino effect from that,” Raschilla said. “We have educators sitting with kids for 30-40 minutes waiting for the bus to get there to pick them up.”

The middle school schedule, currently 7:52 a.m. to 2:25 p.m., will become 7:40 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. The elementary school schedule, currently 8:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m., will change to 8:20 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. John Ashley Kindergarten’s start time will remain 9 a.m., but dismissal will move from 3:15 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Kindergartners at Coburn School follow the elementary schedule.

In addition to the earlier start times, all schools except the high school are seeing their class day lengthened by 7 to 15 minutes. Raschilla said educators were finding it difficult to fit the state-mandated 900 hours each year of “structured learning time” — class time excluding passing periods, meals, homeroom and other non-academic activities — into the existing schedules.

The combination of earlier start times and longer days means there are now 30 minutes, rather than 25, between the high school and middle school dismissals; and 30 minutes, rather than 20, between middle school and elementary school dismissals.

West Springfield will also extend its half-day preschool programs, for 3- and 4-year-olds, from four days a week to five days a week, and these sessions will also see longer school days in 2024-25. The morning session will continue to begin at 9 a.m. but will end at 11:39 a.m., rather than 11:30 a.m. The afternoon session will shift from 12:45-3:15 p.m. to 12:51-3:30 p.m.

Mittineague not closing yet

Also at the Feb. 13 meeting, Mayor William Reichelt confirmed that it appears the group opposing the closure of Mittineague School was successful in collecting enough petition signatures to delay the change. He said the group submitted about 2,700 signatures to Town Clerk Otto Frizzell; the requirement was 2,414. The clerk had until Feb. 20, after The Reminder’s deadline, to certify the signatures.

Reichelt said if the petition is certified, the School Committee will take another vote on the elementary school closure at its Feb. 27 meeting. If the committee votes the same way it did in January, the matter will go to a town-wide ballot vote later this year. Either way, Reichelt said, Mittineague will not close at the end of this school year, and the School Department is now rewriting its 2024-25 budget proposals to include an open Mittineague.

mballway@thereminder.com | + posts