Friday, January 12, 2018

No Rest for the Weary, Phoenixville School Board Talks Teen Sleep, Start Times and Homework Load

The Phoenixville Area School Board agreed informally Thursday night to begin exploring in earnest the idea of start middle and high school classes later in the day to accommodate teen sleep patterns.

Astute Phoenixville area readers of The Mercury, The Phoenix and other Digital First Media products may have noticed a distinct paucity of news of their community in recent months.

That's because the company did not replace Phoenixville beat reporter Eric Devlin when he left for greener pastures and have shown no inclination to do so any time soon.

So I am trying to pick up some of that slack and as a result, attended a Phoenixville Area School Board meeting last night.

Before we get into the particulars, newly elected Upper Pottsgrove Commissioners President Trace
Slinkerd and I have had a few discussions about the way different boards operate. And although I have covered the Phoenixville school board once or twice before, it was always as a fill in.

So given the likelihood that I will attend many of their meetings in the future, let me just observe that one of the things I find interesting about how they run things is that they talk a lot about how they are going to talk about issues.

And while that sounds a little silly on the face of it, I actually think its quite smart; this given that I have seen more than one public discussion in any number of places wander off into the weeds because no one set the parameters of the discussion ahead of time.

Also, the board allows for public comment throughout the meeting, or at least the work session I attended last night, which is always helpful for fully exploring topics.

So good-on-ya Phoenixville. As Doonesbury once said, "you give good meeting."

As for the content of the meeting, there was some interesting stuff.

Despite having just built a large new school building, Phoenixville Schools will run at or near, or even slightly over capacity, for the next 10 years or so according to the latest demographic figures.

The student population is being driven almost entirely by growth in Schuylkill and East Pikeland Townships, as well as Phoenixville Borough itself.

Also of interest was a discussion about the amount of homework Phoenixville students, particularly in the upper grades, have to complete. A parent complained about it earlier to the curriculum committee and Committee Chairman Kevin Pattinson brought it to the full board.

So too did parents Mark Gerner and David Goldberg, who told the board that within 24 hours of starting a Facebook group called Phoenixville Homework Reform, he had 14 members and as many emails wanting to know more.

To their credit, both the board and the administration welcomed the discussion and pledged to undertake a study of the issue to try to find the right balance.

And, now, if you will permit me the pun, we come to the "sleeper issue" of the night -- teen sleep.

Superintendent Alan Fegley has been tasked with setting up a time frame and an orderly way to look at the issue of teen sleep patterns, and how that relates to school hours -- an increasingly popular subject in schools throughout the country.

Both Fegley and Policy Committee Chairman Eric Daughtery have attended seminars on the issue and said they are behind on the timeline Fegley created to move the issue closer to a decision.

With the assent of the other board members, Fegley will now -- while also working to educate the board, the staff and the public about the matter -- begin to put together the particulars of what an 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. start for the middle and high school would look like.

No decision has yet been made, but he warned the board that changing the times will have ripple effects throughout the district, particularly if, in the interest of sleep, school activities are also curtailed on the evening side of the equation as well.

Consider double bus runs, earlier starts and finishes for school plays, athletics, how those things will affect the schedule in the lower grades and the conflicts that it will inevitably create with parent schedules and preferences, he said.

No matter what change, if any, comes about, it would not be for the current or the coming school year, but the 2019-2020 school year at the earliest.

And now, here are the Tweets from last night's meeting in case you weren't following along.

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