Naperville 203 to survey community on school start times

  • Whether the 7:45 a.m. start time at Naperville Central and Naperville North high schools should be pushed back is one topic to be included on a communitywide survey Oct. 4 to 18 about school days and times.

      Whether the 7:45 a.m. start time at Naperville Central and Naperville North high schools should be pushed back is one topic to be included on a communitywide survey Oct. 4 to 18 about school days and times. Daniel White | Staff Photographer August 2011

 
 
Updated 9/19/2016 3:25 PM

With the pattern of the school year setting in, Naperville Unit District 203 is embarking on a communitywide discussion about whether that pattern should change.

Should high school and/or junior high start later to allow teens more time to sleep? If so, how would elementary students and families, after school activities and even Naperville rush-hour traffic be affected?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's a really good conversation that needs to be had," said Kelly Johnson, vice president of the Home & School Association at Scott Elementary.

The district plans to start the conversation with an online survey Oct. 4 through 18.

"I hope everyone in the community takes the survey," Superintendent Dan Bridges said.

School board members Donna Wandke and Charles Cush said they will put on their parent hats and complete the survey before reviewing community input in their role as district leaders.

The district is asking about start times and the school calendar to fulfill a commitment in its Focus 2020 strategic plan to "conduct a thorough analysis of how to best structure time in the school day and school year to maximize student learning and professional collaboration." Bridges said the district is sending the survey now because this allows time to implement changes by next school year.

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Before developing the survey with consultant K12 Insight, administrators researched whether providing more instructional time helps achievement and whether starting junior high and high school later improves student health. Results were mixed.

Carrie McFadden, assistant principal for operations at Naperville Central, said "evidence was really inconclusive" about if a longer day or year helps students perform better on tests.

Still, Bridges said there will be a few questions to gauge opinions on how the school calendar is set and when breaks are scheduled.

But start times could be an important topic because research from the American Academy of Pediatrics found the natural sleep cycle of teens is cut short when classes start too early.

An adolescent's body clock makes it difficult to fall asleep before 11 p.m., but teens need about 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep each night to avoid sleep deprivation, research found. High schools in District 203 start at 7:45 and junior highs at 8 a.m., making it difficult to fit in enough hours -- especially when some students need to board a bus at 6:25 a.m. to get to class.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Teens who are chronically sleep deprived are at a higher risk for obesity, depression and car accidents, the pediatrics study found.

"That was a compelling argument that giving kids the opportunity to sleep more is a good thing," McFadden said.

Receiving survey results will allow district leaders to determine if the community agrees. The district plans to discuss replies during community engagement sessions in November and develop recommendations for the school board to consider by January.

"I think we can design something that can work for most families," McFadden said.

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