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Columbia High School Changes Start Time, Unifying Schedule for All Students

Editor’s note, 3:49 p.m.: this article has been updated with a new comment from a parent who has advocated for a later start time at CHS.

Columbia High School will institute a new bell schedule for the 2016/17 school year with one start time for all students of 7:55 a.m.

The move comes after a group of parents concerned about start times being too early for a healthy amount of sleep in teenagers lobbied to have the school eliminate the early 1st period (beginning at 7:30 a.m.) that roughly a third of students were assigned. The rest of the students began their days at 8:25 a.m.

(See the new bell schedule below as a PDF.)

Download (PDF, 169KB)

In effect, the administration decided to split the difference, with all students beginning their day at the same time. While this means that some students will have later start times, it also means that the remaining majority of students — roughly two-thirds — will start their days earlier.

The administration was attempting to balance a number of needs, including those who wished for a later start time, students who wanted to make sure there were enough periods in the day to take all the classes they wanted, and teachers who found it challenging to collaborate with colleagues and offer conferences and extra help to students at the end of the school day.

CHS Principal Elizabeth Aaron said in an email to parents that this would be accomplished by making the day end one minute later — at 3:02 p.m. instead of 3:01 — and having some periods be 45 minutes and some shortened to 43 minutes. She emphasized that this would be able to maintain the 4-minute passing time between classes, and the length of lunch periods would remain 45 minutes, which is a part of the school’s contractual obligations with staff.

Reaction from students and parents was mixed. “While I’m glad the school pushed back the 7:30 start time, I’m disappointed that the district didn’t follow the recommendations of public health experts to start high school no earlier than 8:30, and in fact went against this advice, and started it earlier for the majority of our students,” said Laurie Tarkan, member of a parent group that had lobbied the district for a later start time.

“It seems like a waste of a lot of time and effort for an insignificant change in schedule,” said one rising senior.

A rising junior said, “I think it will help just because everyone will be on the same page and there won’t be any confusion…but I do feel badly for the people who didn’t need the extra period and now have to come in earlier.”

See Ms. Aaron’s full letter to CHS families below:

Hello, Columbia High School families. We hope you are enjoying the summer.

I am pleased to send this email to update you on several important things related to your student, our commitment to academic support, and to let you know that you’ll continue to receive emails over the coming weeks to ready you (and our students!) for the school year.

This spring, we worked to develop a new bell schedule for the 2016-2017 school year that eliminates the early start for students (last year, approximately 35% of our students started their day at 7:30) and allows for all students and staff to work all day together. Our former bell schedule had teachers and students on a Periods 1-8 or 2-9 schedule, making it difficult for teachers to find time for professional development and collaboration during the day and to work with colleagues and students who were on different schedules.

The bell schedule attached, which will be in effect for the 2016-2017 school year:

*Has all students and teachers in the building at the same time
*Eliminates the 7:30 start time
*Provides more time and opportunity for teachers to share and collaborate on professional development and planning
*Maintains our 4-minute passing time and 45-minute lunch periods
*Allows for students to select a full-range of courses, including electives as available and multiple strains of study in one content area (for example, a required lab science AND the science research course, or an additional elective in an area of interest, or a space for a study hall for added academic support or time for counseling and support interventions and services)
*Allows for CHS teachers and administrators to collaborate on programs and supports for all students in alignment with the goals of SOMSD’s recently-adopted Access and Equity Policy
*Allows for our community partner the LOFT and the CHS counseling team and staff to offer more opportunities for services, support and counseling

What else will you see that is different in our 2016-2017 bell schedule?

We all start earlier than our previous Period 2 start time, which previously was the 8:15 bell and a start at 8:25. But the 7:30 start is eliminated for all students and staff.

All students will enter at 7:45 to have our usual ten-minute period to use their locker and arrive at Period 1 on time.

(Details for families on entering for our breakfast program and our busing students will be forthcoming shortly.)

Please keep this new start time in mind when making drop-off plans, and remember our advice to drop your child several blocks from school where they can then walk and then cross under the supervision of crossing guards or Maplewood Police at Parker and Academy/North Terrace or Valley Street and Parker.

Teacher reporting time for next year is 7:48.

School ends just one minute later than this year, at 3:02.

You will note that, in order to accommodate our 45-minute contractual lunch with staff and a brief announcement period, classes range from 43 to 45 minutes. We expect that we will work with teachers to make sure all courses receive the same amount of instruction over the course of the year, as special bell schedules for testing, special assemblies, delayed openings, etc. will give us the window to make changes to periods that may have more or less meeting time as a result of those events or circumstances. We do not anticipate any loss of instruction from class to class given this new ability to shift periods if needed.

We will have less disruption to classes during periods of testing such as PARCC or as a result of delayed openings or other special events since we now have a school that operates on one bell schedule, and any classes could, if need be, moved to another time slot as all teachers are present for the whole day.

Previously, our conference period was available for students and teachers to meet after school. Unfortunately, not all teachers were available to all students after school due to our ‘split’ or ‘A/B’ schedule. That barrier to support for students and communication between students and teachers is now removed. With all teachers present for the same length of day as students, and our added ability to staff academic labs, we expect that we will be able to build more academic supports into the school day. As budgeting, staffing, and facilities allow, this schedule will allow us to be able to direct students to academic supports DURING the school day rather than needing to access the after-school and optional conference period.

Our Tuesday afternoons remain as meeting days after school for staff.

Attached please find a copy of this CHS Bell Schedule as well as another copy of our summer FAST Schedule should your student want some assistance with summer work.

As always, we thank you for your support of our students and we look forward to sharing more about the opening of school – especially news about our 9th grade orientation and tours and Q and A sessions in later August– in the coming weeks.

Go Cougars,

Elizabeth Aaron

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