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The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

The student news site of Westford Academy

WA Ghostwriter

School committee reviews updates on later school start times

(School Start Times Presentation 2024-02-12)
One of the many possible school start time schedules for WPS.

The school start times subcommittee presented new developments in their campaign to delay Westford Academy’s start time to 8:00 a.m. at the school committee meeting on Monday, February 12. The subcommittee, comprised of vice chair Kathryn Clear, secretary Bill McDonald, and school committee member Chris Sanders, wants to achieve two things: give WA students an 8:00 a.m. minimum start time and optimize the efficiency of the bus system, possibly saving fuel and combining K-5 busing to have one less bus.

Due to obstacles in bus routing, the subcommittee recommended investing in bus routing software, instead of using paper and pen which has been used up until now. They believe that it is needed for efficiency, and the software could be used for a variety of other things, such as parent communications and portals, bus tracking, and SIS integration. The subcommittee evaluated four providers: BusBoss, BusWhere?, School Bus Manager, and Transfinder.

“[The subcommittee feels] like we should really look into bus routing software,” Sanders said. “Mostly our routes have been done by pencil and paper by hand, and it’s worked well for years because luckily year to year, we kind of know what works the prior year [and] routes aren’t changing a lot year to year, but to really get some of those efficiencies that we think might be needed might take a little more computational power.”

While the subcommittee is exploring technological solutions to optimize bus routes, they are also delving into research that impacts students directly. The subcommittee researched the science behind earlier school start times and found that teens need 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep each night. However, according to a Challenge Success survey done on the students, the average amount of sleep is only 6.5 hours. There are many benefits observed from later high school start times, including increased attendance rates, increased student GPA, and increased student attention.

Because most of the All-Conference DCL teams end school around 3:00 p.m., WA athletes spend a lot of time waiting around for other teams as the DCL high school with the earliest dismissal time. Sanders explained that the goal start time would be at least 8:00 a.m., highlighting that this was the median school start time for the Westford-adjacent schools in the table.

A table depicting Westford Academy’s start and dismissal time compared to those of DCL, DART, and adjacent towns’ schools. DART schools are schools that match with those in Westford Public Schools due to similarities in student demographics, enrollment and assessment results. (School Start Times Presentation 2024-02-12)

Following the table, Sanders explained prior efforts from other committees to change the school start time from as early as 2019.

A citizen advisory committee had received over 4,000 survey responses from students, parents, and staff, showing a near-universal preference for start times between 8:00-8:30 a.m. With concerns about family schedules, after-school jobs, and student care, the committee recommended multiple alternative models, but they were not implemented due to expected transportation costs.

In 2021, there was a four-tier proposal, which also introduced a path to later start times and lower transportation costs, but was ultimately not implemented.

With these prior efforts in mind, the subcommittee has prioritized pushing the start time for middle schools and WA, maintaining the number of busses used, and aligning the schedule with other schools in the DCL. In addition, the group has also considered combining students from different grade levels on bus routes.

“One thing that came up in conversation was the possibility of […] having grades K-2 and grades 3-5 kids riding together,” Sanders said. “The fact of the matter is that because we split our elementary students up into those two tiers and those two start times, those buses are going to neighborhoods and not getting completely filled up, bringing them back, and then going out to those same neighborhoods to get the younger kids. So [this] is a flexibility that we thought would be helpful.”

Sanders also brought up another priority: making sure that bus drop-off times are equitable and that all students can receive the extra sleep they need. This was important since many buses drop students off at WA a few minutes before 7:00 a.m., half an hour before the school start time due to limitations in the number of busses available. Because the middle schools and WA start school at the same time, some buses must drop the high-schoolers off at WA early, in order to pick up the middle schoolers in time.

The subcommittee has a list of recommendations including a timeline for their end goal. The first step involves conducting a feasibility study, which includes a trial year utilizing the bus routing software. Following the trial year, the software is then deactivated, and the bus routes are adjusted annually. However, the feasibility study would cost $7,500 to $8,000. Continuing with the software would cause another $5,000 to $10,000 recurring average.

The timeline would include acquiring bus routing software in February 2024, soliciting community feedback between February and March 2024, contracting the software provider to do a transportation feasibility study between February and April 2024, and lastly, creating a feasibility report and giving final subcommittee recommendations between April and May 2024.

To get feedback from community members following the project, the subcommittee shared a Google form.

“We want to hear from community members who might be paying attention and have thoughts on what we’ve heard tonight, and about things we have talked about in past efforts,” Sanders said.

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Grace Hsu
Grace Hsu, Features Editor
Hi, my name is Grace Hsu and I am a sophomore as well as one of the features editors of the Ghostwriter. This is my second year on the paper and I joined because I like to read and write. In my free time, I like to listen to Taylor Swift and spend time with my friends and family. I also swim competitively and I love to go to the beach. I'm looking forward to another great year!

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