Later School Start Time Details Emerge for Pierson Middle-High School

Pierson Middle-High School in the spring of 2017. Christine Sampson photo
Pierson Middle-High School in the spring of 2017. Christine Sampson photo

By Christine Sampson

As the first day of school on September 6 nears, the administration of Pierson Middle-High School is busy deciding how to implement the later start time approved by the Sag Harbor School Board last month.

During Monday’s school board meeting, the administration’s updates came with an announcement that the district would be spending an additional amount of no more than $200,000 on busing, but district officials stopped short of putting all the blame on the later start times as the reason for the extra costs.

The start time of Pierson Middle-High School has been moved to 7:50 a.m., from 7:35 a.m., and the school day will end at 2:51 p.m., instead of 2:36 p.m. The start time at Sag Harbor Elementary School has been moved by five minutes, from 8:45 a.m. to 8:50 a.m., with a new dismissal time of 3:25 p.m.

Pierson principal Jeff Nichols on Monday announced a few of the steps he and his team have taken so far — including two changes that benefit students who play shared sports at other schools.

Those students, Mr. Nichols said, will be assigned lockers closest to the high school gym, near where the bus picks up students to transport them to East Hampton or Southampton schools. He said the reasoning behind that change is to eliminate travel time between their typical locker locations and those school doors.

Mr. Nichols said the first 65 to 75 percent of an academic period is the most productive and the last 25 to 35 percent of the period is the least productive. Students in shared sports will be dismissed from the 34-minute academic support period nine minutes early, so they can get to their lockers and board their buses to get to practice as soon as possible.

“I think this was a good solution,” Mr. Nichols said.

Parents who have to get to work on time will have the option of dropping off their children at Pierson at 7:15 a.m., where they will be able to stay in the cafeteria supervised by staff members. The students will be also to purchase “a light breakfast” while waiting for school to start, Mr. Nichols said.

“That part of the building will be the only part of the building accessible until the buses arrive,” he said.

School board member Susan Lamontagne, who has been a staunch advocate of later start times since before she was elected to the board, lauded the changes.

“Bravo to you guys to figuring out a solution here,” she said. “I’m very excited to see some of these obstacles sorted out and see how it goes.”

Board vice president January Kerr asked how the district would be measuring the success of the later start time. Mr. Nichols said the administration would be tracking overall attendance, individual class period attendance and students’ grades in their first through fourth period classes, making sure to match up subjects for comparison whenever possible.

Following the discussion of the later start times, Sag Harbor superintendent Katy Graves announced the district would be incurring some extra transportation costs, not to exceed $200,000, and cited “newly added” busing needs for special education, career and technical education and private school bus runs as the cause, which she said were discovered in June.

“Those additional bus runs, with some compression now in the time period, did result in an added cost where we have to have some of our bus runs now purchased out,” Ms. Graves said. “We are conservative when we put these costs in. We’ll see how that goes, but we did want to share that publicly, and we’ll monitor that closely. Kids could decide not to go to private schools or technical education, or there could be special education shifts.”

Some board members said they had been under the impression that there would not be additional costs associated with busing due to the later start. Indeed, during an April 3 presentation, school officials said morning and afternoon bus runs “could be completed with district-owned buses” while acknowledging “tighter bus schedules for sports, special education [and] private school runs” as a challenge. Most of the other time changes — the ones the district eventually abandoned — explicitly required additional busing, according to that presentation.

“It’s because there’s a compression in the time with how fast we turn these [bus runs] around,” Ms. Graves said Monday, citing a recommendation from the district’s transportation director, Maude Stevens, that “we would have to add contracted-out bus runs to make this work.”