Later Start Time Impacts Sag Harbor Students, Teachers

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

The decision to start the school day later at Pierson Middle-High School has had an impact on students and teachers, including those who play and coach sports and those who don’t.

Student-athletes, particularly those in “shared sports” programs at other schools and those whose teams have reached the playoffs, frequently miss out on time in the academic support period and even their ninth-period classes, according to a presentation made by Pierson High School principal Jeff Nichols during Monday’s Sag Harbor School Board meeting.

Along with those students, several teachers do double-duty by coaching sports and must get on the buses with their students to games.

And according to one parent and former school board meeting who was in attendance at Monday’s meeting, Sandi Kruel, there are students left behind who don’t have access to help from the teachers who leave, but need it.

Mr. Nichols prefaced his presentation by saying what he couldn’t quantify with evidence: his belief that “a later start time is good for students.” Pierson starts its day at 7:50 a.m., the latest on the South Fork.

But the numbers tell a story.

Through the end of the winter sports season, 24 of Pierson’s 29 athletic teams — including those that get on buses to head to East Hampton or Southampton — had missed part of ninth period and all of academic support at least once; all 29 teams missed academic support at some point. In the case of the junior varsity and varsity girls’ basketball teams, including some playoff games, the team collectively lost out on 36 minutes of ninth period and 280 minutes of academic support.

The varsity field hockey team missed out on 120 minutes of ninth period and 128 minutes of academic support. The junior varsity and varsity volleyball teams lost 190 minutes of academic support, while the varsity boys soccer team lost 155 minutes and the varsity golf team lost 130 minutes. Pierson’s academic support period lasts 34 minutes.

The school board members expressed concern for the athletes as well as their peers who don’t play sports.

Board member Chris Tice asked Mr. Nichols what happens when a teacher who doubles as a coach leaves academic support: “Who takes over?”

“What they’re charged with doing is telling their kids to go to another academic support,” Mr. Nichols replied. “You don’t put a sub in there; those kids are farmed out to other teachers.”

Board member Susan Lamontagne, who has been a staunch advocate of the later start time since before she was elected to the board in 2016, asked him what happens when a teacher-coach leaves behind a particularly challenging class such as an International Baccalaureate (IB) class.

“I don’t really have an answer for that,” Mr. Nichols said. “There’s no mechanism in place to make that time up. I don’t even want to speculate about the solutions.”

School board president Diana Kolhoff said she believed the district could ask the teachers who leave early to tap into the “flex time” stipulation that is in their contract with the district. She suggested they have “office hours” for student meetings before school to make up some of their lost teaching time.

Ms. Lamontagne called it “a serious issue.” She said she is still hopeful that “we’ll see some shift” in other districts also moving school start times later.

“Nobody likes to see a loss in student-teacher time,” she said. “I also think it’s worth noting that in the last couple of years we’ve had a quite an uptick in championships. It would be great to see academically what things are looking like. What are we seeing in terms of the stats academically? Are they holding?”

Ms. Kruel said her youngest son is a junior. In one of his more challenging classes, where a teacher often left during the fall sports season, she said he scored a 77 average for the first marking period. During the winter sports season, when the teacher did not have to leave, her son’s average rose to 88 for the second marking period.

“The proof is in the pudding for me,” Ms. Kruel said in an interview Wednesday.

She had brought the issue to light at school board meetings in October and February, asking the board and administration to examine the issue up-close. She said there were no surprises during Monday’s school board meeting.

“I am not blaming a coach or a teacher. I am not trying to get anyone in trouble. How do we make it work for the teacher, the athlete and the students?” said Ms. Kruel, whose other children played sports at Pierson, while her youngest does not. “Forget about the IB kids. What about the general population? What happens to those kids? There are hundreds of them.”

She suggested three possible solutions to the problem: pay for dedicated sports shuttle buses that can be used solely for after-school sports and don’t have to rush back for regular afternoon bus runs taking other students home; hire qualified chaperones who can supervise athletes until their coaches finish teaching; or regularly put knowledgeable substitute teachers in the classrooms during sports seasons “so the kids have continuity and support for the entire season of that sport,” Ms. Kruel said.

“I want nothing more than to try to make all this work,” she said. “Let’s have an open workshop, communication and put some ideas out there.”