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Under a new bell schedule next year, Palo Alto High School students will start classes later, at 8:30 a.m. and 10:05 a.m. on alternating days. The school day currently starts at 8:15 a.m.
The change is being made to support student well-being — it aligns with an American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that no secondary schools start earlier than 8:30 a.m. — while also providing flexibility for students and more time for staff to collaborate.
"The selected schedule should help optimize student and staff well-being by minimizing potential stress, anxiety and negative health consequences linked to the structure of the school day," a Paly committee convened to research and recommend a new schedule wrote in its final report. "Time should be allocated to personalize student support, deepen student-teacher relationships, and build a strongly connected school community."
The new schedule was prompted by students' and parents' increasing concerns about "excessive weekend homework" and test stacking on one day of the week when all seven class periods met, the committee wrote. Paly's 2014-15 accreditation self-study also found that staff needed more time to meet with each other.
A previous committee was unable to reach consensus on how to address these issues. Principal Kim Diorio formed this fall the new Innovative Schedule Committee, made up of 18 teachers, staff, students and parents.
Over six months, the committee conducted research on adolescent sleep, the effects of block scheduling and other local schools' experiences with schedule changes; collected feedback from the Paly community through surveys, focus groups and staff and department meetings; and came up with dozens of options for the new schedule.
Under the committee's chosen version, Paly will alternate between "odd" — or "white" — days (periods 1, 3, 5 and 7 will meet) and "even" — or "green" — days (periods 2, 4 and 6 will meet). On the odd days, school will start at 8:30 a.m.
On even days, there will be an optional, flexible period from 8:30-9:50 a.m. when students and staff can decide how to use their time. Students can choose to not come to school until their first class at 10:05 a.m. or to work in the library or access other services prior to their first class. No attendance will be taken during this period.
"This accommodates a student, for example, who prefers a consistent morning schedule or needs to be dropped off by parents at the same time every day, as well as a student who prefers to arrive part way through the flex start to avoid traffic but still have some time on campus before the first class," the committee wrote. "Those who choose to arrive just before their first class on 'Green/Even' days can decide how to use their time before coming to school, including whether or not to have a consistent wake up time every day and whether or not to sleep in."
The library, testing center, peer tutoring center, student center, gym and wellness center will be open during this flex time. The school also could bring in organizations to offer "informal enrichment activities" for students, the committee said.
Students generally won't have access to teachers, however, who will be in staff or team meetings during this period. This increased collaboration time will be a "major benefit" of the new schedule, the committee wrote in its report.
The shift seems to be supported by Paly students and parents. Eighty percent of the 934 students who took the committee's survey and 79 percent of the 305 parents who responded said they wanted school to start at 8:30 a.m. or later.
Under the new schedule, Paly will have to address transportation for Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) students who come from East Palo Alto via bus, the committee noted. The school could arrange for two morning buses or purchase city bus passes for students so they have more flexibility in deciding when to arrive at school on the "even" days.
The new schedule has a more "relaxed pace," the committee stated. It alternates between three and four academic classes per day, which are shorter than before and never back to back. There is always a 15 to 40 minute "break" in the form of a tutorial period (a required time during which students can seek academic support or work on homework), advisory period (when students meet with their teacher advisors), lunch or brunch between classes.
Advisory, which is longer under the new schedule, will also be used to teach the district's new social-emotional learning curriculum.
Students will continue to only be able to take PE during zero period, which starts at 7:25 a.m. In 2015, former Superintendent Max McGee banned academic classes during zero period amidst intense community concern about the link between sleep and teen mental health. More than 80 local and regional health professionals signed a letter urging the school board and superintendent to align the district with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation on start times.
Gunn High School, which moved to a new block schedule in the fall of 2017, starts classes at 8:25 a.m. daily.
The new Paly schedule ends the school day at 3:35 p.m. The committee acknowledged the later end time will likely impact student-athletes, who often have to miss their last periods for games, and teachers who commute to Palo Alto.
The committee recommends forming a new group to help implement the new bell schedule. Paly's acting principal, Assistant Principal Adam Paulson, did not respond to interview requests.
Unlike Gunn's new schedule, which required approval from the Board of Education, President Ken Dauber and Vice President Jennifer DiBrienza decided that Paly's does not.
"We certainly trust the site leadership to make a decision about a bell schedule that doesn't require board oversight," Dauber said.