SCASD officials address concerns about school day changes

The State College Area School Board recently approved a major change to the start and finish times of the district’s school day and on Thursday district officials offered their thoughts on the plan.

Bob O’Donnell, district superintendent, and Vernon Bock, assistant superintendent of elementary education, discussed the past and future of the time change, which will begin in the 2018-19 school year and extends the elementary day by 44 minutes and shortens the high school day by 6 minutes.

Q: Why will this be good for the district?

BO: The key for me relates to giving the students both quality experiences as well as increasing the experiences that we’re giving, especially during that K through 5 time frame.... The change in time isn’t, in and of itself, an improvement. It’s the change in time and how we are supporting the teachers that are leading those learning experiences.

VB: High school kids are going to benefit because we’re more in line with what the sleep research says around teenagers.

Q: In 2014, the district sent out a survey that asked if parents supported the exploration of extending the elementary school day. Did you consider conducting a survey that simply asked if parents supported the change?

BO: We had a lot of discussions around what do you survey and why.... Obviously the change for an elementary family is more significant than a secondary family. The increase in learning experiences for elementary — to move away from being one of the, if not the, shortest student day in the state — that was the whole priority going into this.... (But) because of what we know about adolescent sleep research..., I don’t think it would have been fair to outweigh one group’s thinking over another.

Q: Sleep research for secondary students steered much of the process. What, if any, research did the district consult about the sleep needs for elementary students?

VB: To be very candid, there’s not a real substantial amount of resource around sleep research with elementary-age students... We did consult with two sleep researchers in the area and the advice and consultation that we received from them was that younger kids, their body clocks are much more easily adjusted than the teenage body clock. The teenage body clock is kind of hard-wired.

Q: Throughout the development of the proposal, transportation of non-SCASD students was not finalized. Have the issues been resolved?

BO: If the non-SCASD schools maintain status quo on their school days, we have a plan to transport their students. Some of them are in discussions with us around adjusting their day because they have desires for students to ride with other students of certain ages. So should those schools adjust their day, that allows us a different option to consider, but we do have solutions worked up for meeting our obligation to transport those students.

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi

As early as elementary school, students who miss just two school days each month are more likely to fall behind in reading, writing and math, even if the absences are excused.