Mixed results for start-time survey

NASHUA – Kim Shaw wanted to know how people felt about changing school starting times in the city.

On Tuesday, Shaw and other members of the school district’s School Starting Times Committee learned that four of every 10 people want to keep high school starting times just the way they are, according to the results of a survey distributed last month.

High school senior Jim Kaklamanos revealed to the committee the results of that survey, which had responses from nearly 7,500 parents, students and school staff.

Kaklamanos’ advanced placement statistics class tallied the results over the course of several days.

But if members of the committee were looking for a clear message from the community, they might not have found it.

“I don’t feel there’s a mandate to do any one thing,” Shaw said. “I don’t hear that the community doesn’t want it looked at any further from the results we got.”

Previously, Shaw had said that if the majority of people wanted to preserve school starting times as they are, perhaps it would be unwise to recommend a change.

On Tuesday, she pointed out that the survey revealed about 40 percent favor the status quo, but that’s not a majority.

“If all groups had come back at 60 or 70 percent, I think it would be pretty clear cut,” Shaw said. But that’s not what the results showed.Here’s a breakdown of how the 7,496 people responded to the question, “What time should high school start?”

n 41 percent, 7:20 a.m.

n 24 percent, 8 a.m.

n 16 percent, 8:30 a.m.

n 11 percent, 9 a.m.

n 8 percent, not sure.

High school teachers were the biggest advocates for keeping things as they are, with 59 percent saying they wanted to keep a 7:20 a.m. high school starting time.

Parents and students were more split, with 39 percent of parents preferring a 7:20 a.m. starting time compared with 42 percent of students.

Meanwhile, a total of 46 percent of parents said they would prefer a starting time of either 8, 8:30 or 9 a.m. Another 15 percent were undecided. In all, 2,872 parents from all grade levels responded to the survey.

Students from the eighth through 12th grades were also given the survey. With 3,779 responses, they made up the largest group of people responding. More than half of them (54 percent) favored moving school starting times to either 8, 8:30 or 9 a.m., though the current time of 7:20 a.m. was still the most popular choice, with 42 percent support. Only 4 percent were unsure.

The school district has been considering changing school starting times so older students would go to school later in the morning and younger students would go to school earlier.

Currently, the south campus of Nashua High School starts at 7:20 a.m. The north campus begins at 7:40 a.m. Some high school students are leaving home to catch the bus as early as 6 a.m.

Meanwhile, the district’s youngest students start school the latest. In some cases, they start as late as 9:08 a.m. and get released at 3:33 p.m. For some students at those schools, the buses don’t drop them off at home until around 4:30 p.m.

Starting high school later is in line with research from the National Sleep Foundation that says older students learn better with more sleep.

According to the foundation, teens who sleep about 9½ hours a night perform better in school. Yet the vast majority of students report getting fewer than eight hours of sleep a night.

Academically, a lack of sleep affects teenagers’ alertness, as well as their ability to concentrate and retain information, according to the foundation. Other studies reveal that an extra hour of sleep each night helps students score higher on standardized tests and miss fewer days due to illness.

A more detailed breakdown of the results of the survey, along with some of the research that says starting high school later is better, will be offered at a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 15, at the north campus of Nashua High.