Anchorage School District superintendent proposes altering start times

Dr. Deena Paramo
Dr. Deena Bishop, new superintendent of the Anchorage School District. (Alaska Public Media file photo)

After about a year of discussion and a consultant’s study, Anchorage School District Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop has proposed later start times for high school and junior high students. Bishop’s proposal would also have elementary school students starting slightly earlier.

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The biggest change would be for junior high students, who, under the proposal, would start school at 9:30 a.m., more than an hour later than currently. Bishop has proposed an 8 a.m. start time for high school — that’s a half-hour later — and 8:45 a.m. for elementary students, which would be 15 minutes earlier.

There are three public comment sessions scheduled for September, with the Anchorage School Board expected to vote on the proposal in October.

Dr. Bishop spoke about the proposal with Alaska Public Media’s Casey Grove.

GROVE: So, why? That’s my main question. Why do we want to change start times at all? Why do we need this?

BISHOP: Sure. So, our biggest “why” in the district is that we want kids to do well and we want them to be successful, we want to do what’s best for kids and their learning.

So the specifics really over the last 10 years, the different stakeholders have been approaching the board and providing information about brain research, all the like, about secondary students. They’re pretty nocturnal, their brains, they do stay up, whether parents want them to go to bed or not. And they’re they’re not fully functioning their brains in the morning, but most recently, about 18 months ago, West High students started a petition and over 5,000 people, within the school, internally to the district, as well as externally, asked the board to look into this, knowing that school start times really aren’t just a school thing, if you will. Our parents’ work schedules, babysitting schedules, sports schedules, doctors appointments, everything operates around if you have children. And a fifth of our community does have someone in a school. We would have to consider that, so we spent a year getting information, having community meetings and the like to finally have that recommendation that the board asked for.

GROVE: It seems like more sleep would be better. But when people argue against this, what is their argument?

BISHOP: The biggest argument is really the interruption to family. If I have a family schedule and it’s working for me, then it disrupts, when I have younger children or students in two different schools, with my work. So that that’s the primary. A lot of the comments are, “You know what, I have to get up early, the world doesn’t wait for kids, just make them get up, make them go to sleep earlier.”

But what we know about, you know, the frontal cortex of the brain and lots of other things, that kids don’t just go to sleep. And so knowing that they’re awake past 10 o’clock, the majority of them, and to get up, to be in school by 7:30, they wouldn’t be getting that 8 hours. But really the change is the biggest issue, not necessarily that it’s at one time or another, it’s not that, “I don’t want high school at this time or elementary.” It literally was the impact on daily schedules.

GROVE: What happens next? I guess there are some some community meetings for public comment and then it sounds like the board would vote in October, maybe at the earliest.

So what’s the earliest that this could actually be implemented?

BISHOP: We are looking for the fall of (2019). So we have a whole year out, and that was important for our board as well, to ensure that arrangements and discussions, work schedules, daycares. The market will follow where people are, so we know that that has changed and we’ve studied that in other communities.

So we’re confident but we want time for people to talk, to plan, to understand, and ultimately there hasn’t really been anyone that says, “You know what,  I don’t understand the research,” or, ” I don’t believe the research.” It’s really been about how, “This impacts me personally. My life is already busy as can be and stressors and this is going to add one more,” and therefore the time we thought was quite important.”

GROVE: Forgive me for asking this, but what time do you get up?

BISHOP: I’m early riser. I’m up at 4:45 just to walk the dog. So, I start work at 7 myself and, you know, work till six. I’m probably- I’m a workaholic I guess.

GROVE: But you’re advocating for later start times here.

BISHOP: Correct. And I’m not 14 and pretty much can determine my outcomes. So I could change my job, I can create a lifestyle that I wanted something different. This is the job that I love, helping kids, and for me, getting my exercise in with my dog an hour before I start helps me in my day. So those are decisions I can make as an adult. But I hope as adults in this community that, if we believe in our community, we really should do good by our kids.