Taft HS to start at 9 am, with 4:18 pm dismissal; LSC reacts to the change
by BRIAN NADIG
The planned 9 am start to the school day at Taft High School is expected to hamper after-school job opportunities for students and delay the start of athletic events, but it also is expected to reduce tardiness and allow for more tutoring.
“It offers a plethora of opportunities for before-school tutoring,” Taft principal Mark Grishaber said at the July 21 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council. “For ACT prep (workshops), it’s a lot easier to get students here at 8 a.m. than 7 a.m.”
Taft is one of dozens of high schools in the city which will have a 9 a.m. start time as part of a system-wide effort to save about $9 million in transportation costs. The spreading out of start times for elementary and high schools will reduce the total number of buses needed to cover all of the bus routes.
Last school year classes started at Taft at 7:45 a.m., and students were dismissed at 3:03 p.m. This fall classes will start at 9 a.m. and end at 4:18 p.m.
Grishaber said that it is his understanding that most high schools will have a 9 a.m. start and that school system officials are unlikely to change their decision. “I’ve told the powers-to-be that I think 8:30 a.m. is better for us,” he said.
Last school year there were times when up to 300 students were tardy but the later start will help to address that problem, and students will be able to arrive early and have access to the library and possibly a computer lab, Grishaber said. “The campus will still be open at 7 a.m.,” he said.
Currently there is not adequate space in the school to accommodate all of the sports teams at once, and the new start time will allow for more practices and club meetings to be held before school, Grishaber said. “It doubles the capacity of the building,” he said.
Several council members said that the late dismissal time will force more sporting events to be played at night and that games may have to be moved to the weekend because the number of outdoor facilities with lights is limited.
“I asked (a Chicago Public Schools official) if he’s ever tried to hit a baseball in the dark,” said LSC parent member Joe McFeely, who attended a budget meeting that the school system held for council members. About four baseball stadiums with lights are available in the city for high schools, he said.
Concerns also were raised that athletes will get home as late as 10 p.m. on game nights due to the late dismissal and will then be up to 2 a.m. doing their homework.
In addition, LSC chairwoman Lisa Schwieger expressed concern that the late dismissal time will make it difficult for students to get jobs. “A lot of these kids work to support their families,” she said.
Some LSC members said they wonder if the school system will reduce the length of the school day in order to allow for an earlier dismissal time and if the 9 a.m. start will affect the contract negotiations between the school system and the Chicago Teachers Union. In 2012 the school system approved lengthening the school day by about 30 minutes despite concerns by the union that teachers would have a longer work day as a result.
Grishaber predicted that students will adjust to the change. “It’s not the big boogeyman that it is. It’s a mindset,” he said. “It’s a clear opportunity to show our kids when you’re thrown a curve ball in life, you adjust.