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New Start Times Pose Challenges for High Schools

While some students are overjoyed at getting another hour of sleep, the new Hillsborough County Public Schools high school bell schedules have created some concerns for the principals at Alonso and Sickles.

Last year, parents who participated in a poll voted to move the high school start times from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30, a recommendation that was approved by the Hillsborough County School Board. Alonso principal Kenneth Hart and Sickles principal Mary Freitas acknowledge that the extra time can be beneficial because studies have consistently shown that high-school students need additional sleep.

“But every time you change the schedule, it can bring about some other changes and we anticipated some potential issues,’’ Freitas said.

“While our school schedule has changed, the schedules of mom and pop haven’t changed,’’ Hart said. “They still have to be to work at 8 o’clock. They still have to drive to South Tampa. In some cases, there’s a real scramble.’’

On the first day of school (Aug. 10), Hart said he reached his Alonso parking space at 6:25 a.m. He noticed there already was a student waiting.

“The student said, ‘My mom had to drop me off because she has to get to work,’ ‘’ Hart said. “They were unaware that the school day began at 8:30, even though it has been talked about and widely published.

“And this early arrival wasn’t an isolated incident.’’

Hart said the custodial staff reported about 100 students on Alonso’s campus before 7 a.m.—some 90 minutes before the opening bell.

“They were well behaved, but they were there, sitting in the dark on our planters and we simply can’t have that,’’ Hart said. “We simply don’t have any supervision for that.’’

The contract negotiated by the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association allows for an eight-hour workday (approximately 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., just past the final bell).

Hart said it’s acceptable for students to arrive on Alonso’s campus after 7:30 a.m., giving them an hour before the first bell.

Otherwise, he said students must find alternate travel plans, including riding a school bus, if their parents have an unbending work schedule.

“We have a lot of students on this campus and sometimes you feel more like that mayor of a city than a principal,’’ Hart said. “It’s getting people here on time, getting them from place to place, finding a way to feed them over three lunch periods.

“It’s a lot of logistics. We do need the help and cooperation from our parents in order to make it all work.’’

Hart and Freitas—along with principals at every school—have ongoing issues regarding tardies from students who lag behind while navigating the five-minute transition between classes.

Hart said that problem has been expanded because on the new bell schedule. Last school year, the classes were 55 minutes long. Now they are 47 minutes.

“We are covering the same material in less time, which we can do, but having kids consistently late to class is something we cannot have,’’ Hart said.

At Alonso, it’s an even bigger issue because moving from the 900 building (on Alonso’s far southeast corner) to the other side of campus is challenging in a five-minute span. Alonso has allowed students in the 900 building to get a two-minute “head start’’ in order to efficiently reach a distant outpost.

“The time has collapsed and now we’re down to a bare minimum number of minutes (in a class),’’ Hart said. “It’s OK. We can catch up. But we have to be on point. It’s important for kids to be on time for class.

“We have been highly visible with this. We’re encouraging kids to know that our campus is too large to not walk with a purpose. What is your purpose? It’s to get to that next classroom. It’s not to talk to your girlfriend, to argue with your boyfriend, to move slowly. This is not an issue unique to Alonso, Sickles or any high school.’’

Hart said he and his administration were “stunned and shocked’’ that parents wanted to start school at 8:30 a.m.

By Joey Johnston

“We actually thought people would want to start slightly earlier and get out earlier,’’ Hart said. “When the results came out, they (School District) warned us to ‘be prepared for a surprise.’ We’re going to make this work, but the decision for the most part has created some residual challenges we all must overcome.’’


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