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Superintendent's News

Posted: April 21, 2023

A Difficult Transition

In his weekly message, Superintendent Scott Elder acknowledges that changing school schedules won't be easy, but he says it will make a difference.

We unveiled new bell schedules for the upcoming school year on Monday, and the responses we’ve received from families have been mixed.

Many told us that adjusting to the new schedule was going to be incredibly difficult for working parents. A few accused us of not caring about families. One used colorful language that I couldn’t repeat here even if I wanted.

Many others have made it clear that the schedule is going to be hard to pull off but also told us they understand why we’re doing it, acknowledging how hard the current schedule is on their teens.

None of what we’re hearing is surprising.

We knew this was going to be a difficult transition for everyone and that the reaction would be intense.

In life, we’re sometimes faced with having to make tough calls, calls that we know will be disruptive and that won’t make us popular but that, deep down, we know are the right things to do. This was one of those calls.

I didn’t walk into Monday’s bell schedule press conference with rose-colored glasses. I knew that there would be pushback. I knew we would be criticized for disrupting our families’ schedules.

But here’s what else I know.

As a former high school principal, I know teens by and large don’t do well when they’re asked to be in their seats and ready to learn by 7:25 a.m. As a parent, I know that my own kids were always getting to bed late when they were that age and that they hated waking up early to get to school.

I know that the American Academy of Pediatrics has been recommending since 2014 that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to allow adolescents to get more sleep. I know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been warning that lack of sleep in adolescents is associated with poor academic performance and bad health risks and that an APS task force we formed in the fall to study the issue recommended later start times for high school students.

And I know that having to bus more than 40,000 students to school every day with limited bus drivers is a complicated jigsaw puzzle that forces us to have four different bell schedules in which the earliest group starts school at 7:30 a.m. and the last group starts at 9:15 a.m. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it’s our reality for the moment.

I also know that the new schedule isn’t perfect, particularly for some of our middle school students in the East Mountains and in our K-8 schools who, because of the logistics, are slated to start their school day at 7:30 a.m.

We’ve known for more than a decade that later start times for middle and high school students are the way to go, we just haven’t been willing to take the heat for the disruption that such a move would cause.

So what’s changed?

Our new Board of Education and members of our community are demanding that we be bold and that we take steps to improve our academic outcomes. While this new schedule won’t magically get us to where we need to be, I feel that it is an important step toward putting our students first and setting them up for success.

That said, I recognize that change is never easy. We pledge to do what we can to help with the transition.

As we navigate this change, it’s worth keeping in mind that Las Cruces and Santa Fe public schools have already moved to later start times for their high school students. The same goes for California, where state lawmakers and the governor enacted a law requiring most of their public high schools to begin classes no earlier than 8:30 a.m. While there was initial pushback to those changes, people adjusted.

Without question, there will be hurdles to overcome for our families and for our schools, but I wonder how we’ll feel about this bell schedule in a year or in three years after we’ve adjusted. My guess is that there won’t be a push to go back to earlier start times for our middle and high school students.