Special Report on the School Start-time Controversy
School Board recall?
Strong teacher opposition
H.S. principal forced to resign
There has been a deep division in the Scarborough school community about the new school start times for more than a year. The issue has been simmering on high for many months. But it roared to a full boil this past Thursday and Friday. At an unusually well-attended School Board meeting on Thursday evening, parents voiced strong opinions on the adjusted school start times that are scheduled to go into effect in September. [If you are not familiar with the issue, please see the details at “Start-Time Issue in a Nutshell” below.]
Most of the parents spoke against the changes, often in strong terms. Some parents indicated a lack of confidence in the school administration and the School Board. Some parents are apparently seriously considering launching a recall vote for members of the School Board. And as of this writing, more than 960 individuals have signed an online petition asking the School Board to reevaluate the new start-time schedule (link here).
Teachers oppose new policy
Perhaps the most striking part of the School Board meeting was the president of the teachers’ union reading a letter that stated that more than 100 teachers and other professionals attended a recent special meeting about the start-time change and voted “overwhelmingly” against it. This sort of division within the school system can’t be a healthy sign.
High School Principal Gets the Heave-ho
One would have thought that it would be impossible for the school administrative regime to outdo themselves after the Thursday evening School Board meeting. But you have forgotten – this is Scarborough, a different kind of town. So less than 24 hours after the meeting, the news broke that High School Principal David Creech had been asked to resign.
Now we have only a nodding acquaintance with Mr. Creech, mostly through seeing him at School Board meetings where he made presentations on various topics over the past few years. The impressions from those encounters were uniformly favorable. And his reputation appears to have been a highly favorable one, as a caring, effective and well-liked leader. But perhaps he had not been supportive enough of the start-time change. Or ran afoul of the administration in some other manner. We freely admit that we don’t know what happened. Perhaps we never will. But we do know that the forced resignation of Mr. Creech poured gasoline on a fire that was already well-established.
There’s a separate online petition calling for the School Board not to accept Mr. Creech’s resignation (link here). As of this writing, more than 1,250 folks have signed that one. For a frame of reference, there are about 960 students at the High School.
Frankly, we were astounded by this decision at this particular time. Who made the decision? Who reviewed and approved it? Was there a complete lack of situational awareness?
The start-time issue in a nutshell…
For those of you who do not have a child in the Scarborough schools, here’s the issue in a nutshell… School hours are being adjusted as shown in this table as of this coming September:
Remember that the times above are school start and end times. They do not include bus rides on either end; that can be up to 50 minutes in each direction.
In summary, the youngest kids’ school day will start almost an hour earlier than it currently does, while the high school kids will start an hour and fifteen minutes later than they do now.
The main impetus for the change was the science that says high school kids need more sleep in the morning. (Let’s face it, “science” isn’t what it was in the good old days when Mr. Wizard showed you how to mix a bunch of match heads with ammonia to create an awesome stink bomb.)
But many parents are objecting to the practical implications of the change, like having to make different and longer daycare arrangements, having later times for sports and other extracurricular activities and interfering with after-school work schedules. Not to mention the impact on the youngest kids of having to be in school nearly an hour earlier. Which means waiting for the bus before sunrise for some of the wee ones. And some parents have noted that these K-2 kids are the ones who need the most sleep — yet their days will begin nearly an hour earlier than they do now.
While later start times have been implemented in several southern Maine communities, Scarborough’s version is apparently more extreme than any of the others.
Underlying the discussion of the facts and opinions is a basic trust issue. Parents have cited a lack of transparency, broken promises and an unwillingness to compromise by the school administration and School Board. It’s the old classic: “thanks for your input, but we know better” attitude. That’s a sentiment that instantly rings true for anyone who has even a casual acquaintance with Scarborough’s past track record of local governance.
About the media coverage of the recent developments:
The Portland Press Herald finally posted an online story about the tension in the Scarborough school community at 2:14pm on Sunday, three days after the School Board meeting and 48 hours after the announcement of Mr. Creech’s resignation. They were probably forced into it by television coverage of the Creech matter. Their willingness to leave the story alone until forced into it is consistent with the paper’s long, cozy relationship with school administration. Keep that bias in mind as you read PPH stories.
And then there’s the Scarborough Leader, whose news delivery model is quaintly embalmed in the 1950s. That model assures that news occurring on Thursday, February 15, won’t reach your mailbox until eight days later, on Friday, February 23. Really, guys, have you given any thought to online updates of “breaking news?”
A first look at the Scarborough Downs development. What does it mean for Scarborough? At what point does the Scarborough we know and love become an entirely different place? Big growth. Big implications. Big questions. Stay tuned. And be prepared to THINK BIG!
That’s all for now, folks. Happy trails until we meet again.