By Christine Sampson
Pierson Middle-High School teachers on Monday voiced their opposition to starting school later at Pierson Middle High School, a concept the school board has been reconsidering for several months now.
Chase Mallia, a math teacher who has taught in Sag Harbor for seven years, and Joe Amato, a science teacher who has been in the district for 27 years, told the school board they felt moving Pierson’s start time to 8 a.m. would negatively impact teachers’ quality-of-life.
Saying “there is only so much time in a day” for teachers to grade papers, advise clubs, coach sports, commute to-and-from work, still raise their families and have their own free time outside of work, Mr. Mallia said, “We can’t put our students first by putting our teachers last.”
He said he leaves his house west of the Shinnecock Canal each morning at 5:40 a.m. in the springtime and early fall to make sure he gets to work on time. He believes moving to an 8 a.m. start time would add around 20 minutes to his commute each way.
“We are starting to see commute times have an impact on employee retention,” he said. “I would ask you to consider the feedback teachers have.”
Mr. Amato, who lives in East Quogue, told the board that cost of living in Sag Harbor is too high, preventing young teachers from living locally and being able to be fully involved with the district.
“Very few young people can move east of the canal, purchase a home and raise a family here,” he said. “The younger people have to move further and further west. … That wears on people. It limits doing the extra stuff. I think teaching is not just about teaching your five and six hours a day.”
Agreeing with Mr. Mallia that a later start time would extend teachers’ commutes, Mr. Amato said he felt it would prevent the district from being able to attract the best job applicants.
“I’m thinking about the next generation. The folks who are going to take my job, do they want to sit in the trade parade four or five months a year?” he said. “Think of those staff members you’re going to hire.”
On Wednesday, Sag Harbor superintendent Katy Graves acknowledged teachers have shared these types of concerns with the administration. School officials have compiled data showing about one-quarter of the teaching staff lives west of the Shinnecock Canal — and even as far as Scarsdale — while another 11 percent come from the Southampton area, which is also heavily impacted by traffic.
“The district is aware more and more that the teachers that we’re hiring are not always from Sag Harbor,” Ms. Graves said. “We make an effort to hire locally, but when we hire someone who is not local, we know that purchasing a home here on the East End is going to be a tremendous challenge. Teachers do share that the commute is a challenge. We try and be very thoughtful about it.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Jim Kinnier, a Pierson math teacher who is president of the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor, and who spoke up at a previous school board meeting in opposition of the later start time, said while TASH will not be issuing a formal statement on the matter, he, Mr. Mallia and Mr. Amato were not simply speaking for themselves — their viewpoints reflect that of other teachers, too.
“It’s been a long time since teachers have been able to buy a house in Sag Harbor,” Mr. Kinnier said. “I consider myself one of the lucky last few that were able to, and that was 20 years ago. We need to be able to convince teachers to drive a long way here and sit in that traffic. It’s half the school year that traffic is a big issue for our teachers and other employees as well. I would say that it’s better to not go with the later start.”
He acknowledged the medical research behind the school district’s initiative — mid-to-late-morning start times for middle and high school students have been recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control and other groups — but said he wasn’t sure moving Pierson’s start time would have much impact.
“I don’t doubt the validity of the research, but there are other issues combined with it,” he said. “I would say when you add up all the issues, the best thing to do would be to keep the start time as is.”
Also announced Monday was the district’s plans to release a survey to the community next week detailing five options that have been previously discussed. Those options include: Leaving start times as they are — Pierson hosting school from 7:35 a.m. to 2:36 p.m. and Sag Harbor Elementary School from 8:45 a.m. to 3:20 p.m.; moving Pierson to an 8 a.m. to 3:01 p.m. day and Sag Harbor Elementary to an 8:35 a.m. to 3:10 p.m. day; moving Pierson to an 8 a.m. to 3:01 p.m. day and Sag Harbor Elementary to a 7:35 a.m. to 2:10 p.m. day; and moving Pierson to a 7:55 a.m. to 2:51 a.m. and Sag Harbor Elementary to 8:50 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.
Various impacts on transportation and athletics will be broken down in information presented alongside the survey, according to Sag Harbor Elementary School principal Matt Malone and Pierson principal Jeff Nichols. Parents can expect to receive the survey by email and it will also be posted on the district’s website at sagharborschools.org. It will be open for responses for one week. The school board is expecting results later this month.