A new school year often brings significant change. And in St. Paul, one of the best this year is the long-overdue shift in school start times. Beginning this week, the city’s public school teens can sleep in an extra hour, which research has shown will help them be more alert and able to learn in class.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board had advocated for the schedule change for years. Studies done during the past two decades have confirmed what’s obvious to many parents: Adolescents are not early-morning people.
On Tuesday, the first day of St. Paul’s school year, about 10,000 elementary students began at 7:30 a.m., while high schoolers started at 8:30 a.m.
Despite supportive data, making the shift was not easy in St. Paul. Changing bus schedules increased the district’s transportation costs, and many parents of younger kids objected to changing family schedules and, in some cases, having their little ones waiting for buses earlier in the morning. Though the move didn’t please everyone, school leaders wisely persisted and joined the majority of metro and state school districts with similar start times.
Schools in St. Paul also have 15 new principals — the largest number of new school leaders in 15 years. Meanwhile, about 10 new educators are running Minneapolis schools this year.
Also in Minneapolis, a different type of scheduling change should bring more consistent teaching and learning experiences in every school. Beginning this year, schools will have “predictable staffing,” a practice that was written into this year’s budget and will be rolled out over three years.
It means that each school will be able to rely on having a certain number of teachers as well as other support staff.
In addition, this year the district has committed to having more academic specialists work with teachers and students on advanced learning programs. The idea is to better meet the needs of kids who are likely college-bound and keep them challenged enough to stay in the district.
With both the St. Paul and Minneapolis district facing enrollment challenges, here’s hoping that newly introduced instructional and scheduling approaches will help make schools in both cities more effective for students, families and school staff.