The Gorham Times, Gorham, Maine's Community Newspaper

Staff Writer

At the last School Committee workshop, members of two committees charged with studying potential changes to school starting times and the impact of population growth on the district’s three elementary schools gave presentations and made recommendations to the School Committee. Each committee gave SC members extensive reports that summarized research and supported their conclusions.

The Gorham School Day Committee, consisting of staff, parents, students, and physicians, recommended that starting times for grades K-5 and 6-12 be flip/ flopped. If approved by the School Committee, the K-5 school day would begin at 7:50 a.m. and end at 1:50 p.m. Classes at the Gorham Middle School (GMS) would start 8:50 a.m. and those at Gorham High School (GHS) at 8:40 a.m. The official day at GMS would end at 3:00 p.m. and at 2:50 at GHS. The committee also recommended that the SC consider lengthening the school day by approximately 15 minutes, which would bring it more in line with neighboring districts.

In making these recommendations, the committee studied scientific sleep research that found adolescents require between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep daily. Survey results from 1,529 GMS and GHS students indicated that they averaged only 7 hours and 27 minutes daily. Also cited were studies that supported the safety, health, and performance benefits of later school starting times for students in grades 6-12. These included lower rates of suicide, depression, car crashes, and athletic injuries.

Dr. Tim Ha-Ngoc, a Gorham School physician, and committee member Dr. Colby Wyatt, a pediatric pulmonologist, as well as many other experts in adolescent medicine and sleep research concurred with these findings. There was no reported detrimental impact of K-5 students starting school earlier.

After considering as many as 18 scenarios for configuring Gorham’s three elementary schools, the K-5 Configuration Study Group agreed by consensus to recommend that there be no change from the current configuration. The twenty-four member committee included parents and staff from Great Falls, Village, and Narragansett schools. The group considered survey results from an additional 331 parents and staff members in making the decision.

All viable scenarios required the use of portable classrooms to accommodate current and anticipated population growth while still maintaining optimum class size. The committee looked at K-5 school configurations from 15 districts in southern Maine and consulted research on the possible negative consequences of transitions on student well-being and performance. The financial impact of the various scenarios in an economic climate of uncertain state allocations and the immediate need for GHS renovation was also considered.

Once the group had narrowed the options to six, the committee examined the challenges and benefits of each. They chose to recommend no change in configuration from the final three. Both of the other two would require students to change schools at least once during their elementary school years. The benefits gained from retaining neighborhood schools were deciding factors. In making this recommendation, the committee stressed the importance of consistency and equity of learning opportunities in the three schools.

The estimated cost over three years for portables and additional teachers varied some for the three scenarios. Projected costs for maintaining the current configuration fell between the two others and was estimated to be $3,338,000.

The School Committee will study the research and recommendations presented by both committees before voting to make any changes in the school day or K-5 school configuration.