Sag Harbor School District Comes Up Empty on Academic Support Solutions

Empty seats in a classroom at Pierson Middle-High School. Christine Sampson photo

The problem was not a new one, Sag Harbor School District officials have said, but was perhaps exacerbated by the decision to move the start time 10 minutes later this year at Pierson Middle-High School: student-athletes and teacher-coaches often leave the academic support period early, and sometimes leave ninth or eighth period early, to get to sporting events.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Pierson High School principal Jeff Nichols reported the district has formally begun wrestling with the problem. The administrators recently sat down with representatives of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) to hash out some solutions, he said.

But they came up short.

“There were really no easy solutions that we discussed that would work,” Mr. Nichols said.

Among the options discussed was the idea of assigning one or two teachers per subject each day for academic support, to whom students could go as a resource in case the particular teacher they needed that day had to leave early for athletics. Another option discussed was having teachers come in early, before school, to make up lost time with students. The options were not ideal, Mr. Nichols said.

TASH president Jim Kinnier, who teaches math at Pierson and coaches a cross-country team in the fall, agreed with Mr. Nichols. He said while the concept of later school start times for older students makes sense in general, and those who support it “want what’s best for children,” he said at this point there are fewer pros than cons.

“I thought through the situation,” Mr. Kinnier said Wednesday. “There are other things involved. The consequences outweighed the benefit in all of them. I think that encapsulates the issue with this. If we’re going to do the later start time, it has to be a regional issue.”

He continued, “The students are not getting the benefit of the later start time as compared to what it should be, and they’re also losing contact time with the teachers.”

Board member Susan Lamontagne, who is a staunch supporter of later school start times, but who was not present at Monday’s meeting, defended the district’s decision to move Pierson’s start time to 7:50 a.m. this year, and pointed out the athletes’ and coaches’ conflict with academic support was not a new problem.

“I think it’s unacceptable … to just blame later start,” she said Wednesday. “The research is clear about the benefit of later start for middle and high school kids. We should continue to find ways to solve these problems.”