Elementary School Parents in South End Angered by School Time Changes

By Seth Daniel

Hundreds of families with school-aged children in the Hurley K-8 and the Blackstone Innovation School in the South End are giving Boston Public Schools (BPS) an emphatic ‘F’ after the district announced its highly anticipated new school times last week and made major adjustments to those schools unexpectedly.

Perhaps the largest changes came at the popular Hurley K-8 on East Springfield Street, where the tight-knit community school was quite satisfied with the school day, which now goes from 8:30 a.m. to 3:10 p.m.

That nice arrangement was turned upside down when parents found out late Thursday evening and Friday morning, that the new schedule would have the Hurley moved up to a start of 7:30 a.m. and a dismissal of 2:10 p.m.

“I am not happy with the change at all,” said Zeeshan Khan, who has a first-grader at the Hurley. “I don’t know why this was needed here in the first place. They used an MIT Algorithm I heard. Their MIT Algorithm jumped all over people’s lives, which is unbelievable to me. It’s all quantitative, but it should be qualitative…I know parents who have to use the bus every day and they have to be at the school bus stop at 5:30 a.m. I don’t know how that will work with a first-grader…I’m actually considering moving out now because it makes no sense anymore.”

Khan said they had several hundred parents who had signed a petition, and meanwhile, parents from the South End, Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury gathered at Doyle’s Café in JP Sunday night to strategize how to fight the newest change by BPS.

Additionally, city councilors at the Dec. 13 meeting at City Hall filed for a hearing to address the new system, which some councilors said was “far worse” than the existing system.

The big school time announcement came last Thursday afternoon, shortly after the School Committee voted the previous day to accept a policy that let the schools – in conjunction with the MIT research team – institute new times across the board.

“School bell times have tangible impacts on the lives of families, ranging from jobs to a student’s academic performance,” said BPS Supt. Tommy Chang. “As a district, we must make sure that our students and families are set up for success, and they deserve nothing less. I am confident that next year’s school bell schedule will be an improvement for the majority of families, and is reflective of the feedback we have received from thousands of students, parents, and staff.”

The new system-wide scheduling plan eliminates a three-tier system in which most schools began at 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m., or 9:30 a.m., and replaces it with a 10-tier system in which schools begin every 15 minutes between 7:15 a.m. and 9:30 a.m.

An optimization team from MIT’s Operations Research Center, led by Professor Dimitris Bertsimas, worked with BPS to formulate the best possible scheduling options by taking into account community feedback along with the astonishing 1.8 octodecillion, possible, school start-time combinations. The MIT solution can design BPS bus routes based on school start-times more quickly than BPS staff can manually. It has historically taken about 3,000 hours to manually design routes, whereas MIT’s solution can produce a robust estimate in 30 minutes and allows the district to look at a much broader range of scenarios, BPS said.

The major push for the changes came from high school parents, who in large part were happy this week with the changes. Parents of students at Boston Latin Academy (BLA) and Boston Latin School (BLS) were particularly happy with the changes. That’s because start times were so early at so many high schools that students were becoming sleep deprived, and national research has shown that early start times are a major problem for growing minds.

BLA next year will go from a school day of 7:20 a.m. -1:40 p.m., to an 8:30 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. school day. BLS will move from 7:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m., to 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Maria Dolorico of the South End and her family were caught in that bind. With two BLA students and one Hurley student, they started the evening jumping in celebration – but ended the weekend very sad.

“For the first 24 hours, I was jumping up and down because my high schoolers fall asleep if they sit down for 10 minutes, and that’s a challenge,” she said. “I am so disappointed that this situation was so good for us, and it came at the expense of my Hurley School community. I’m getting to the point where the more stories I hear about from the Hurley, the more I can’t support this…I didn’t realize that in order to have this we would have to be throwing the K-8’s under the bus.”

She said it is a shame that the schools got this so wrong in attempting to do something that was right.

“I don’t know anyone who is for this now,” she said. “I’m not quite sure how BPS got this so wrong. It was a good thing when we heard about the School Committee vote on the policy, especially for the high schools. Then the school times came out 24 hours later and I feel it’s been an uproar every since. I can’t stand by it.”

Meanwhile, at the Blackstone, parents were shocked to find out their time had been moved back by an hour. The Blackstone will go from a day that was 8:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. to a day that will be 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Many in the Blackstone had said they were very happy with the current times.

Milica Golubovic, one parent who wished no change at the Blackstone, was surprised that schools changed it.

“For us that is just too late and changes our lives significantly, especially since we have children in two schools that are now two hours apart with drop-off and pickup,” she said. “I also know that there are other families that have children in multiple schools. The schedules they came up with are all over the place for each school, so I too am curious to see how the families react.”

BPS said much of the changes to elementary schools – with many of those changes being very unpopular with parents of small children – came due to the adoption of Early Learning Time (ELT) models – which many elementary schools participate in now.

Over the past three years, the district said 57 BPS elementary schools extended the length of their school days, resulting in dismissal times of 4:10 p.m. in 27 schools this year, which BPS said resulted in some families wanting an earlier dismissal. The percentage of elementary school students being dismissed after 4 p.m. in the new plan will decrease from 33 percent currently to 15 percent next year.

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