By Jeff Gallatin
Superintendent Mike Zalar told the North Olmsted Board of Education he intends to have a recommendation at its April meeting about whether the district should keep or alter for the 2014-2015 school year the earlier starting times adopted this year.
Zalar told the board at its March 18 meeting he will be reviewing data already collected this year, an is having surveys sent out to district parents about the earlier start times for school children that began this year.
“I’ll be doing a comprehensive review of all the information gathered with school administrators and other officials, as well as considering the survey input from school families,” he said.
Zalar, who is in his first year as superintendent of the district, said he has no preconceived notions about the start times, while also noting he is aware that there was opposition to starting school 15 minutes earlier, particularly for students in the middle and high schools, when the proposal was first announced and later approved by the school board last year. Several school board meetings had groups of parents voicing their opposition to the earlier start times. Parents said it would result in less rest for students, which would hurt them in academics and other student activities.
“We will consider all the different aspects of this,” Zalar said.
All schools will be reviewed, but Zalar noted he is aware the bulk of the concern came from parents of middle and high school students.
School board President John Lasko said the district is keeping its word with the review.
“The board committed last year that a review would be made this year not only of the starting times, especially at the high school and at the middle school, but also of the curriculum and programming aspects and uses associated with the extended school day,” he said.” That commitment is being kept.
“Just as he did initially with the development of the district’s strategic plan and is doing currently with the development of its facilities plan, Dr. Zalar is employing a comprehensive yet timely approach to conduct his evaluations, make his decisions and formulate his recommendations, if any, to the board for our consideration at next month’s meeting.”
Melissa Meredith, one the parents opposed to the earlier start times, said she believes Zalar is giving the issue a fair review, while noting she still opposes earlier start times.
“I appreciate Dr. Zalar’s attempt to obtain parent and staff input,” she said.” He has demonstrated a genuine interest in listening to parents. However, what continues to be the most important factor in determining the schedule is the voluminous amount of research, which show earlier start times negatively impact students, not only academically, but also their mood, behavior and overall health.
“Since the decision was reached last year, a three year study concluded that later start times improved attendance, standardized test scores and academic performance while simultaneously it decreased tardiness, substance abuse and symptoms of depression,” Meredith said. “Recently the Ohio Adolescent Health Partnership listed one of their goals as increasing the percentage of middle schools and high schools participating in later start times. Even the U.S. (Department of) Education secretary, Arne Duncan, said it was ‘common sense’ to start school later. It doesn’t make sense that North Olmsted would institute a program that runs in direct contrast to the research and recommendations of health and education experts. I sincerely hope the district does what is in the best interest of the students and reverses its decision from last year.”