PCSD: Elementary schools won’t start before 7:50 a.m. | ParkRecord.com

PCSD: Elementary schools won’t start before 7:50 a.m.

A task force charged with ironing out the details so the Park City School District can restructure school start times began meeting this month, and will have an even trickier task than previously thought.

Molly Miller, the district's communications specialist, said Superintendent Ember Conley has determined that the task force should not consider any options that have the elementary schools starting before 7:50 a.m. That would, in part, ensure students won't have to wait for buses in the dark, a prospect that worried many people in the community.

"A lot of parents had a lot of concerns about their little ones being out in the dark and having to wake up super early," she said. "So we wanted to really respect that feedback, and we did understand where those parents were coming from. Teachers and staff and some principals had some concern about that as well."

That directive further restricts the task force, which already must come up with a plan that has the high school beginning no earlier than 8:30 a.m., as per a directive the Board of Education issued in August when it voted to move forward with changing start times. On top of that, the task force must also juggle dozens of other considerations, such as the impact of start times on traffic patterns and athletic schedules.

Todd Hauber, the district's business administrator, acknowledged the stipulations from the school board and superintendent create additional challenges for the task force.

"You've got two set points, and now we try to make the rest fit around those two set points," he said.

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Hauber added that starting elementary schools at 7:50 a.m. or later, while pushing back the secondary schools, could mean that the school day ends later in the afternoon. One of the aims of the task force, however, will be to determine if there are ways to mitigate that effect and shorten the day, while still giving students the same amount of instructional time.

"Without touching anything, if you shift it back 20 minutes, everything now gets out 20 minutes later," he said. "The question for the implementation team is to figure out, 'Well, are there ways to not have that 20 minutes later actually carry through into the afternoon?'"

A time constraint further complicates matters for the task force. In order to implement new start times at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, as the Board of Education has identified as a goal, the task force must have the major elements of the plan finalized by the end of January. That's when the district begins creating the secondary school master schedules for the following school year.

Hauber admitted the timeline is fast and said the task force will have to work hard over the next few months to keep pace with it.

"We were given our marching orders, so our job is to figure this out in the time that we have allotted," he said.

The district initially began exploring changing the start times in order to get high school beginning later in the day. According to research, teenagers learn more effectively when classes begin mid-morning — the high school now starts at 7:30 a.m. — and there is broad support in the community for pushing back the opening bell at PCHS.

Finding a way to make such a change a reality — and to make it beneficial for students of all ages — has proven complicated. Miller, though, said the district remains optimistic the task force will figure it out in time to potentially make the change for the next school year.

"It's an ambitious timeline, and we have a really nicely qualified group of people on the implementation task force," she said. "People on both sides of the issue are really coming together to try to overcome these challenges."