Planet Princeton

A later wake-up call: Princeton school board approves new start time at the high school

Students at Princeton High School will be able to sleep in an extra half hour on school days starting next fall.

The school board Tuesday night approved a new start time and end time for the high school for the 2018-19 academic year that begins in September. The move, a year in the making, is an attempt to better align start times with the biological clocks of teenagers. Study after study has shown that teenagers need more sleep, and perform better when they start school later.

School board members and district administrators spent months working on the changes and getting buy-in from parents, community members, teachers and other staff members.

The high school day currently starts at 7:50 a.m. and ends at 2:50 p.m. In September, the start time will be pushed back to 8:20 a.m. School will end at 3:20 p.m. The middle school and elementary schools will not be affected by the changes. Both times are 15 minutes earlier than an original proposal that was met with opposition by some teachers in the district, who said the later start and end times ruined their own schedules and commutes.

Lighted sports fields at the high school will be unnecessary as a result of the amended plan the board approved Tuesday night.

For the 2019-20 academic year, the middle school would start at the same time as the high school. After the first year, district officials will evaluate the impact of the changes and make adjustments if necessary.

Several students, the two high school representatives to the school board, and several parents spoke again in favor of the time change at the board meeting.

School board member Gregory Stankiewicz said before the vote that the Princeton Public Schools district has the opportunity to be a leader by changing the start times. He cited a recent survey that revealed that students at the high school only get an average of about six to less than seven hours of sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has urged a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later for high schoolers. In 2011, the Brookings Institution reported that moving school start times later especially helps increase test scores for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. A 2014 University of Minnesota study found similar effects at 8 public high schools in 3 states: delaying school start times to 8:30 a.m. or later resulted in higher grades and scores on achievement tests in core subjects, and improved attendance and tardiness rates. In the community with the latest start time in the study, car crashes involving teen drivers declined by 70 percent.

“The research is so strong and robust,”  Stankiewicz said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the brave thing to do.”

School board member Dafna Kendal said she supports the decision to change the time because it is in the best interest of the children.

Superintendent of Schools Steve Cochrane said the district has been looking holistically at student wellness issues and stress and that the time change is just one effort of many to help students. The district is also looking at changing how students use their time during the day. A modified block schedule is being implemented at the high school, with a rotating schedule. The high school is also focusing on project based, problem based learning.

School board member Michele Tuck Ponder was the lone member of the board not to vote yes on the change. She abstained.

“Despite my best efforts to read the research, I’ve also taken some time to listen to opinions on this pro and con. My greatest concern is that I think that we are very enthusiastic about starting the day later, but we haven’t addressed what happens when you end the day later,” Ponder said. “I’ve heard from a lot of people about how this impacts after-school activities and athletics. Parents who are working parents want to be sure that their kids get to school on time and will not be able to do that with the later start time. There is a significant expense to Cranbury. I’m not the Cranbury representative, but I do feel I represent those folks as well. I’m not confident that starting the day later will achieve the objective we seek.”

Ponder said the district needs to work with parents to get kids to practice better sleep hygiene, and needs to manage the amount of homework students have. She also said a more comprehensive approach is needed in order to make sure students get more rest.

School Board President Patrick Sullivan said brave parents brought up the start time issue several years ago and were ignored. “It’s great that we are doing this. The process was wonderful. It involved a lot of discussion and compromise. That was all a great thing,” he said. “This is not the end of this process. It is only the beginning.”

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Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

10 comments

  • Lawsuit = $100K plus in legal fees. The Ponders really have the best interests of Princeton Schools in mind.

    Does Mr. Ponder even have standing to sue?

    What are the Young Ms. Ponder’s damages? I recall a social media post of hers indicating that she enjoyed the time off due to her suspension.

    Sounds like a frivolous lawsuit. Ms. Tuck Ponder is a lawyer – in case we didn’t know – and should know better.

  • I’m surprised the HS starts so early. 7:50 is much earlier than JWS and the elementary schools.

    Love the tough love comments.

    Why when I was their age I walked two miles to school – up hill, each way.

  • Abstaining from the Vote?? Seriously. Maybe Michele Tuck-Ponder didn’t have time to do the research “despite her best efforts” because she was too busy helping her husband and daughter put together the paperwork for the civil complaint against PPS. The vote mattered. It was a topic worth taking the time to research. Hopefully, Tuck-Ponder can multi-task better when it comes to important votes in the future.

    The parents of high school students THANK the Board for voting in favor of this measure AND for doing the research.

  • Teenagers are wired to go to sleep around 11PM- Midnight. So shifting the school day makes sense to accommodate their biological clocks and allow them the sleep they need.

  • I agree with Ms Crook. Sleeping is crucial for all human beings from babies to adults and elderly. Turning off electronics by 9pm would allow kids to go to bed by 10pm and wake up by 6am, 8 hours, that should be fine. The tons of extracurricular activities and sports plus homework and with the use of electronics on top are a certainly the cause of kids going to bet too late.

  • the amended plan made the “later” start a bit earlier than the initial proposal, which means that the school day will still end early enough to eliminate the need for the lighted fields.

  • True they are still developing.So shut down electronics and social media at a certain time and get into good sleeping habits.
    Perhaps meditation could help.

  • Except 14 to 18-yr-old high schoolers aren’t adults in the Working World yet. They are still children – YOUNG adults – whose developing brains and bodies are going through rapid changes that require very different things from adults, particularly more sleep. They have the rest of their lives to be sleep-deprived – I don’t see the benefit to getting them started during such a crucial period in their lives. This has nothing to do with being irresponsible for being “late.”

  • This is just great. When these kids are in the Working World, I hope they can find a boss that will start a later work day for them.
    Being on time is their responsibility.

  • The post reports this:

    “Lighted sports fields at the high school will be unnecessary as a result of the amended plan the board approved Tuesday night.”

    A later school start — and later end to the school day on the back-end — would seem to make lighted sports fields MORE necessary, not less, as the later dismissal means that after-school starts begin later in the afternoon, which in the winter means even less daylight prior to sunset. And that means MORE (not less) need for LIGHTED sports fields.

    Did I otherwise miss something?

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