By EMILY R. WEST
During one of its three meetings this month, Williamson County Schools district leaders explained how changing school start times could affect everything from traffic to athletics.
The conversation for school start time changes began in January. Since then, the district has collected research and is now asking for the input of parents. Studies showed students don’t get enough sleep and Williamson County Schools is trying to figure out a way to combat that issue.
One of three things could come out of this conversation: the district keeps the times the same, schools push back the times half an hour, or high school and elementary schools switch start times.
Presently, high school begins at 7:25 a.m. with elementary beginning near 8:30 a.m. According to district personnel, it’s impossible to have all schools start near or around 8:30 because of the double routes and transportation issues. Any change to the start times would not financially impact the district.
“This decision could impact every home in Williamson,” Superintendent Mike Looney said. “It’s critical they engage in this discussion so they don’t wake up to find a major decision has been made to their benefit. We need to answer questions before we make a decision. We have been working on this for months, and we are going to try to answer these questions, so I can make a recommendation to the board. It may not be the most popular but I want to recommend what is best for the overall community.”
Here’s how it will affect some of the district’s biggest components:
Williamson has thousands of student athletes at both the middle and high school levels.
WCS Athletic Director Jeremy Qualls said a change in times either way would affect an athlete’s schedule. It would also mean a struggle with lighting and stringent and Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association scheduling.
Qualls said pushing the start time back would mean later practices. It could also mean getting stuck in rush hour traffic for some away games that total to 118 miles. Students may not leave school or cut into class time for athletics.
A later start time would also mean potential cuts to junior varsity programming without the lighting to support games.
Transportation would become a double-edged sword.
While pushing the start time back would prove helpful in the morning, it could also mean worse traffic congestion during the 4 to 4:30 p.m. drop off times.
Flipping flopping high school and elementary school could also result in younger students arriving home before their siblings.
“A lot of parents depend on siblings to be home,” WCS Transportation Director Jeff Fuller said. “Now the younger siblings would get home earlier. That would be an issue right there. Our bus drivers care about their children. They make sure those kids are safely delivered to their front doors, and knowing there’s a sibling or parent there for them gives them relief.”
AFTER SCHOOL CARE
Continuing this year, the district has before and after school care, otherwise known by SACC.
Nearly 3,000 kids attend the program in Williamson schools. Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Denise Goodwin said starting later wouldn’t dramatically affect the program.
“SACC on delayed start, the morning care would be 6:30 to 9 a.m.,” she said. “It’s just a longer time, and it would be from 4 to 6 p.m. Our morning workers may enjoy the longer shift, but it could affect our college students who work and then have their own morning classes.”
Although, SACC on a flip schedule would mean the elimination of morning care with students starting at 7:25 a.m.
“We would be bringing someone in at 45 minutes,” she said. “It’s not enough time. But while there would be no morning SACC, we would have it from 2:30 to 6 p.m. That may be difficult, or we might could find more workers. Right now, we are 60 workers short, and we might need more building space because of the extended time.”
Want in on the conversation? You still have a chance.
Next week, the district will hold its second meeting at Centennial High School starting at 6 p.m. The following week will include a meeting at Fairview High School also starting at 6 p.m.