Zach Dietz: Later start time at Northampton High School can be achieved without cuts

Last modified: Friday, March 06, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — Students at Northampton High School, where I am a student, deserve a later start time. School presently begins at 7:30 a.m. and busing starts at 6:35 a.m.

That’s why I wanted to address the Feb. 27 article, “Later start at Northampton High unlikely because of cost.” I have heard the notion circulated that later start time advocates are in favor of cutting arts, athletics, and Advanced Placement courses to achieve their later start time. This idea is absurd.

At its heart, the later start time movement is an initiative to make education at Northampton High School better via the associated health benefits. If proponents of the later start want to make the school better, it should be clear that they would not want to do this at the cost of substantially slashing art, athletic and educational opportunities.

You are probably thinking, “well, later start time proponents want it all. They want their later start and they want it at no cost.” This cannot be accomplished with the current plans that Superintendent John Provost has presented to the School Committee, but it is possible.

Provost looked at two plans: the hub system and the additional tier system. Under the hub system, NHS students would share buses with elementary school students in the mornings and with JFK Middle School students in the afternoons. The tier system, meanwhile, would place the high school buses on their own routes. The superintendent suggested the additional tier system — the one that costs an extra $90,875 — over the hub system because the hub system is more expensive since it requires an additional bus. However, that calculation was not based on the legal capacity of each bus of three to a seat, but the comfortable capacity of two to a seat.

Since bus ridership fluctuates considerably day-to-day and the attendance used in Provost’s calculations are based on the days of maximum ridership, if this plan was enacted, riders would not need to sit three to a seat every day. Instead, some riders would occasionally need to squeeze three to a seat on the few days of the year when ridership is at its max — a tradeoff, but better than $90,000 of cuts.

Provost did not look at the joint-ridership plan, suggested years ago by former Principal Nancy Athas, where high school and middle school students would ride on the same bus in the morning to JFK. High schoolers would then ride on two or three buses from JFK to the high school, meaning the number of buses in use would decrease and could potentially result in saving money.

The biggest drawback of this plan is that the afternoon high school bus run would not be directly after school. But this can also be seen as a positive because it would give bus riders the opportunity to stay for extra help or participate in after school clubs. Again, this plan has its negative, but I believe this drawback is better than the alternative cuts or unhealthy start time. The reasoning for Provost not looking at the joint-ridership plan is unclear to me. In his report to the School Committee, he recommended that the start time not be later than 8 a.m. — a requirement that this plan does not satisfy since it would result in an around 8:20 a.m. start.

However, to throw out a plan that achieves a later start time and may save money for the district just because it makes the start time slightly later than 8 a.m. — a healthier time anyway — seems unwise to me. This is especially true given that 8:20 a.m. is what the most recent ad hoc committee suggested would be the ideal start time after studying what the effects would be on athletics, clubs, Smith class opportunities, and practically every other facet of NHS imaginable.

The 8:20 start time still falls 10 minutes short of the American Pediatric Association’s recommendation for healthy high school start times, but I think it would be good enough for us.

Zach Dietz is a junior at Northampton High School.