As Newton High School opens its doors today for the start of a new school year, students will be showing up for class half an hour later. Regular classes will begin at 8:30 a.m., rather than last year's 7:55 a.m. start time.
Several reasons prompted the change — including giving students more time to rest — but Principal Roger Erickson said the primary desire was to provide more opportunities for teacher collaboration.
"Our teachers are actually quite thrilled, because they didn't have an opportunity to communicate on a regular basis," Erickson said.
Teachers now will have an opportunity to meet together before school starts to discuss topics such as curriculum planning, student issues and concerns, and professional learning. Erickson also is excited to involve all staff in school improvement and to receive input from across the organization.
Some students may still come to school early — NHS now has two "zero hours." The first — from 7 to 7:40 a.m. — is for optional weights classes. The second — from 7:40 to 8:25 a.m. — is for music. Under the previous system, music students would lose electives due to participation in groups such as band. Now, they can take those classes outside the normal school day.
"We're trying to give those kids some options they haven't had," Erickson said.
Students also can sleep in an extra half hour. Erickson said 7:55 a.m. was actually one of the earlier start times for high schools in Kansas; some start as late as 9 a.m.
Studies have shown that later start times can help students succeed at school. According to Psychology Today, teenagers need an average of 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep a night.
Erickson believes the change in start times will help both students and teachers, and he is looking forward to seeing NHS continue to make progress. The school already has made improvements in the past year: absences decreased in 2013-2014, raising the attendance rate to 93.7 percent; tardies were reduced by 57 percent; and there also was a reduction of 40.9 percent in disciplinary referrals.
"I'm proud of our teachers," Erickson said. "I believe Newton taxpayers are receiving value for the money they're spending on education locally. These teachers are really trying to do a great job for our community."