High school students in the Winona Area Public School (WAPS) system spend the least amount of time in the classroom annually among schools in the Big 9 Conference. However, a recent school board discussion hints that may change soon.
Figures recently reported by the Winona Post show that students in District 861, who begin class at 9 a.m. and are released at 3:30 p.m., are at the bottom of the list, with only 1,137.5 hours of teacher-student contact time annually.
Six options to extend the school day were introduced by WAPS administrators to the school board, after repeated calls for were made by teachers and principals for more face time with students. Contractually, Winona Senior High School (WSHS) union teachers are obligated to work 184 days, which includes time for teacher conferences and workshops. Of those days, teachers must spend 175 in the classroom teaching curriculum.
On Thursday, the WAPS board discussed six options for adding instructional time to the secondary school day, including two options that were introduced last year. The options consider the costs of adding 30, 20, and 15 minutes to the school day, and lay out possible changes in the daily schedule, which would include earlier start times.
Five of the six options propose that students begin classes before 8 a.m., which allows for earlier dismissal times. However, school board member Steve Schild said starting class earlier was not the way to go.
“I came across a study from the Center for Disease control that said students are already not getting the recommended 8.5 hours of sleep,” Schild said. “[The study] goes on to say that districts using later start times have reported students being less depressed, more alert, and have seen academic improvement. This just seems like an awfully early start time.”
How much does additional time cost?
Human Resources Director Pat Blaisdell described the six options put together by the district’s administrative department and said they would add time at the secondary level without adding time at the elementary level.
Blaisdell said teachers at the high school have longer before-class prep time so there is room to manipulate schedules.
The first option proposes to add 30 minutes to the secondary school day and has students starting class at 7:15 a.m. and dismissing at 2:15 p.m. At a price tag of $108,000, Blaisdell said the majority of all incurred costs would come from staffing and transportation fees.
Option two, similar to the first proposal, would add 20 minutes to the school day, and have a 7:25 p.m. start time and 2:15 p.m. dismissal. The cost of this option is $70,700, an estimate Blaisdell said could be more expensive, again based on transportation needs.
The third option, estimated at $52,590, would add 15 minutes to the schedule, and have students start at 7:30 a.m. and be dismissed at 2:15 p.m.
“The first three are basically identical options, except for the difference in time and cost,” Blaisdell said.
The fourth option is a modified version of what the high school currently has. The option would start the school day 15 minutes earlier at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. The option would add 15 minutes to the school day at a cost of $55,590.
The fifth option, which was introduced last year, adds 30 minutes to school day at a cost of $60,190. The school day would begin at 7:20 a.m. and end at 2:20 p.m.
Option six, also introduced to the board last year, would add 20 minutes to the secondary school day at a cost of $128,700. Students would start class at 7:30 a.m. and be dismissed at 2:20 p.m.
Halvorson said other schools in Minnesota, specifically Minneapolis, modified start and dismissal times with little to no variation in academics and student alertness.
The drawback to the current school schedule, Halvorson added, is having the latest dismissal time in the Big 9 Conference.
“If we add time to the schedule at the end of the day and go past the 3:30 p.m. dismissal time, we are cutting into students’ jobs, athletic practices, and we will run into more problems in the long run,” Halvorson said.
Student athletes missing class
A recurring problem, Blaisdell said, that often disrupts instructional time is when students leave early for athletic obligations. WSHS Activities Director Brad Berzinski said with the city of Winona not centrally located, away games often take students out of class early.
“The earlier they start class, the less class time they will miss,” Berzinski said. “Well over the majority of our student population, in fact about 70 percent, will leave school for athletics at some point during the year.”
Last year Berzinski presented a study to the board that showed that the grades of student athletes who missed classes at the end of the day did not suffer as a result of the missed time in school.
Schild questioned why recently proposed budget cuts did not include the athletic department, and said the change in schedule should revolve around academics, not athletics.
“I don’t mean to minimize what is being said and I don’t doubt that the students involved in activities do very well,” Schild said. “But, I think we are wrong if we are not looking primarily at the academics.”
At the request of board member Ben Baratto, administrators will bring back data later this month that shows a more definitive answer as to how earlier start times may affect student performance.
Halvorson said while she understands the concerns of board members regarding the proposed earlier start times, she said adding more time at the end of the day would be detrimental in the long run.
“I don’t think it is a bad idea that our secondary students get up early,” said newly elected board member Tina Lehnertz. “They’ll have to get up early when they get jobs. I think we pamper our students a little too much. We have a farm, so my kids got up early. That taught them to be organized young adults and they are now very successful. I attribute that to them being a part of WAPS and being a part of athletics. So, while I appreciate all the data, I do think that they can be pushed a little bit.”
The WAPS board plans to discuss additional instructional time at its meeting later this month. An option to extend the school day could be implemented for the next school year if the board decides to move forward with the plan by next month.