BAR HARBOR — How early classes will start at Mount Desert Island High School next fall and when they will end – and how the hours in between will be structured – appear to be of great interest to a lot of people.
About 120 people registered for an hour-long virtual Q&A session on the subject last Thursday evening, and many of them submitted questions and comments.
Principal Matt Haney began the session by announcing that the proposed start date for school next fall is Sept. 7, with an end date of no later than June 17, depending on the number of snow days.
He also is proposing that school days start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 2:25 p.m.
In previous years, school started at 8 a.m. This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the start time has been 9 a.m.
“Lots of research indicates high school students are healthier, safer, more productive and more successful when school starts later in the morning than what you would traditionally see,” Haney said. “We’ve seen this play out in this current school year. Moving forward, it’s hard to imagine going back to the days when school started at or before eight o’clock.
“Starting at that time, some students were out waiting for the bus between six and six-fifteen in the morning, way too early for their biological clocks.”
In previous years, classes were 80 minutes long. This year it is 60 minutes. Haney said that really isn’t long enough, so the plan is to have 70-minute classes next year.
“This schedule allows students to reap the benefits of more sleep and also gives windows of time to meet with teachers independently outside of class,” he said.
Haney also said the school is considering cutting an hour from the school day for students every Wednesday to give teachers time “to work together to grow their professional skills…and for targeted intervention and individual support for all of our students.”
On that one day a week, he said, classes would start at 9:45 a.m. and would last 55 minutes each.
Haney then invited parents and others who had registered for the Q&A session to submit questions.
The questions were read by Dean of Curriculum Julie Keblinsky and were answered by Haney, Keblinsky and Dean of Students Ian Braun.
Here are a few of the most-asked questions, along with the responses from the school administrators.
Q: What do students and teachers think of the later start and other changes implemented this year?
Haney said there had been a student survey and focus groups and interviews with teachers.
“The students said loud and clear that they really appreciated the later start time; that was almost universal,” he said.
“They also got a lot out of the office hours, the ability to meet with a teacher during the regular school day.
“The teachers said they appreciated the professional time to slow down, work on their craft and work with individual students this year.”
Keblinsky said comments that people submitted during the Q&A session indicated both a lot of support for and opposition to the later school start time. Haney said he hoped families would express their opinions on this and other questions in a survey that was sent to all families in the school district last week.
Q: What is the plan for replacing the class time that you are proposing to eliminate?
Haney: “I would say the quality of the time would far exceed the loss of the quantity of time. The teachers have said the shorter class time has caused them to think about what’s most essential and to really focus in…and to have better quality of time.”
Braun said students indicated on their survey that, with shorter classes, “They weren’t finding themselves drifting away…and were better able to comprehend and take in the information.”
Keblinsky added: “Students have found that they are retaining and commanding more than they ever had before. They are really engaging with the material because teachers have been much more strategic in their instruction than they have ever been able to be.”
Given all the changes, disruptions and loss of class time this year, Haney said, “I cannot compliment the teachers enough on how well they’ve focused and how well they’ve made this work. And we are seeing that students are still learning and learning well.”
He said students have 240 minutes of class time per week this year. In the proposed schedule for next year, it is 335 minutes.
“The office hours, with individual and small group meetings [between students and teachers] is worth much more than its weight in time. Even if you’re not struggling in a class, it’s worthwhile. Some students have said, ‘Not only did I learn, but I was able to get to know my teacher so much better in these office hours.’”
Q: If school is going to start 45 minutes later, why not extend the school day that much?
Haney said that going past the proposed time of 2:25 p.m. would create bus schedule conflicts with the elementary schools.
“Also, a lot of school is about what happens after school, and if we start pushing our extra- and co-curricular activities too late in the afternoon, it starts to take up too much of the evening for people, especially when [sports] squads and [theater] casts have to travel. That makes it tough to go much later than 2:25 or 2:30.”
Q: Since some students have benefitted from learning remotely, can they continue with that option?
Haney: “We are hoping that, by the fall, we are in a situation where we are able to come back to school full time and not have the online option. There may be some students who have a continued need, and we will work with them to create specific special plans. But we want to get away from teachers having to teach students both online and in the classroom at the same time. So, we are not intending to offer a fully remote option except for very special circumstances.”
Q: How will you ensure safety from COVID-19 in school next fall?
Haney: “We don’t know what things are going to look like in the fall. But we are going to be careful because being in school is important and being healthy is important, and we’re not going to risk one over the other. We will always follow the rules that come out of the federal CDC and Maine CDC and the Maine Department of Education.”
Q: Will Senior Exhibition and some of the other activities that were lost this year be back next year?
Haney: “We are really excited about being able to go back to some of those things. Senior Exhibition is one of them. There were two primary reasons we couldn’t do it this year: One was that, in order to fit all our students into the classes they had, we had to reduce class sizes significantly, which meant we didn’t have any teachers to teach the Senior Exhibition class. The other reason: From a safety perspective, we didn’t think it was a good idea to be sending students out into the community under these circumstances.”
He said there could still be some obstacles next year, “But we are pretty committed to trying to put Senior Exhibition back as a capstone project and a requirement for graduation for the class of 2022.”
Haney wrapped up the hour by saying he and the other school administrators would look at all the questions that were submitted, including those that were not addressed during the online session, “and use those to help guide our next step.”