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School District Proposes Earlier Start Times to Address Traffic Safety Concerns

Congestion from both school and commuter traffic, especially around three schools concentrated on West Center Street, prompts proposal for advancing school bells.

The will consider a proposal this month for earlier start times for all schools, mainly because of traffic safety concerns.

In a letter to district parents (below), Superintendent Phil Ertl pointed out that a number of accidents and incidents last year could be attributed to traffic congestion.

This is especially true in the West Center Street corridor where , and Eisenhower Elementary stand in a row, all currently start within five minutes of one another, and all start at the height of commuter rush hour.

The district's proposal would also make start and end times consistent for all schools at each level.

High school start times would be most affected, with students expected to be in class by 7:40 a.m. instead of 8. Ertl acknowedged studies that show high school students' sleep patterns might call for later start times rather than earlier.

He countered with his own observation, though, that high school students in the district are being rigorously prepared for challenging careers that could demand an early start to their day – and they might just as well get used to it.

Ertl also pointed out that most other area high schools start and end earlier than Tosa's do now.

Here are the start and end times for high schools in the Greater Metro and Woodland conferences:

  • Brown Deer 7:50-3:00
  • Cudahy 7:40-3:10
  • DSHA 7:50-3:41
  • Elmbrook 7:55-3:09
  • Greendale 7:24-2:30
  • Greenfield 7:10-2:21
  • Hamilton 7:20-2:25
  • Marquette 8:00-2:48
  • Menomonee Falls 8:00-3:10
  • New Berlin Eisenhower 7:20-2:20
  • New Berlin West 8:00-3:00
  • Pewaukee 7:30-2:24
  • St. Francis 7:40-2:35
  • St. Thomas More 7:34-2:34
  • Shorewood 7:35-3:07
  • South Milwaukee 7:30-2:48
  • West Allis 7:47-3:00
  • Whitnall 7:15-2:18

Ertl invited all parents and staff to provide feedback on the Start Time Feedback page on the district website.

Letter from the superintendent

Dear Wauwatosa School District Community,
I am writing to inform you of a proposal that will be brought forward to the School Board in April. This proposal relates to start and end times for the school day for all schools in the Wauwatosa School District. Currently, our start and end times vary across the District. This proposal would have all elementary schools start and end at the same time. The middle schools and high schools, which currently have similar start and end times, would also start and end at the same time.


The proposal is as follows:

  • East and West High Schools 7:40 a.m. - 2:50 p.m.
  • Whitman and Longfellow 7:50 a.m. - 3:10 p.m.
  • All Elementary Schools 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

This proposal primarily comes out of a concern for student safety. Last year, there were a number of student safety situations across the District, including a student being struck by a car on Center Street in front of Eisenhower/West/Whitman. The traffic congestion in the mornings in that area is a daily safety concern. The primary issue is that all three schools have start times within five minutes: West at 8:00 a.m., Eisenhower at 8:03 a.m. and Whitman at 8:05 a.m. We also hope that this will ease some of the traffic congestion on North Avenue, Milwaukee Avenue and 76th Street for students traveling to Lincoln, Longfellow and East. In addition, the School District and the City of Wauwatosa are working together and have hired a traffic consultant to create other street related recommendations for improvement.

In addition to safety issues, changing the times will help with the coordination of teachers that work in more than one school. This would create efficiencies in our staffing that could save money. This change will also help to facilitate more meaningful teacher collaboration meetings across the District when teachers meet with staff from other buildings. At the high school and middle school level, an earlier release time will decrease the number of students who currently miss all or part of their last hour of class due to athletics or other extracurricular activities.

I am aware of the research related to high school students and their sleep patterns suggesting that high schools should be starting later in the morning. I am also aware of the other side of that argument that high school students need to be prepared for life after high school when their work days will be starting early. I do believe that starting 20 minutes earlier will not negatively impact their learning or their attendance. Many high schools in the area start earlier than 7:40 a.m.

I am interested to hear from you. Please fill out the e-form to share your thoughts.

Sincerely,

Phil Ertl

Irish Guy 53213 April 07, 2012 at 01:04 PM
I am a parent of children in all 3 levels of schooling in Wauwatosa. I am familiar with the research that looks at High School aged kids and tend to agree that you are moving start times in precisely the wrong direction. And the spacing between schools can be accomplished without the start time being made significantly earlier. But this is not my primarily concern. The biggest problem with starting school earlier, is that on the other end of the equation you are releasing them into the community earlier as well. And especially on Wednesday Early release day. An overwhelming amount of data shows that middle school children start getting into trouble during the hours that they are released from school and the time that most parents expect them home for dinner or when parents get home from work. I am also aware that many area districts do have start times earlier than Wauwatosa. However, there has been a significant parent movement, especially in the Greenfield District, to move the start times later in the morning. Unfortunately, many of the reasons for earlier start times are considered has nothing to do with what is in the best interest of the students, but for the convenience of transit companies and budgetting considerations of the district. One of the great things about living in Wauwatosa is that we (generally speaking) have schools that are all walking distances from our homes and that we do not need to load our children on school buses.
Toda Mom April 07, 2012 at 09:28 PM
We expect, or certainly encourage, our high school students to go on to college. There is a big difference between a 14-15-16-year old brain than a 22-23-24-year old brain. Teenagers need their sleep if they are expected to be up late finishing their homework. Interestingly, no mention was made about how this time change will primarily benefit high school athletes who won't need to be pulled out of their last hour class to attend a sporting event at another school in the district. The student athletes from Wauwatosa are the conscientious ones who are doing their best to keep up. I wonder if this is yet another change to accommodate students in our schools who live outside Wauwatosa?
Phyllis Payne April 07, 2012 at 11:02 PM
Stating that "high school students need to be prepared for life after high school when their work days will be starting early" is akin to saying that a preschool student must stop napping because they will be in full-day kindergarten next year. The teen brain and sleep patterns are different because their brains and bodies are still growing and developing. Having an early high school start times does nothing to help them "prepare" for an early workday later in life. This isn't a skill or something to be "practiced" and "learned". Circadian rhythms are biologically different during puberty than they will be later in life with or without "practice". If this is about student safety, I would recommend reading the studies by Danner and Phillips: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2603528/ and by Vorona and Szklo: http://www.aasmnet.org/Articles.aspx?id=1685 Earlier school start times are associated with less sleep for children this age. There are other studies showing sleep loss is associated with increased risk of injuries.
John McNally April 13, 2012 at 04:56 AM
Earlier comments regarding Dr. Ertl's cavalier dismissal of research showing later start times for teenagers are spot on. Seriously, his reason is students (of which about 90% go on to college) need to prepare for early starts to their workday? This is just so ridiculous... My wife starts her workday at 5am. My workday sometimes needs to accommodate workers in India which does occasionally mean a 7am start, but other times means an 11pm or later end and the majority of the time means a normal 9 to 5-6-7 day. When I was in college, I often worked the 3-11pm shift. Maybe we should have high schoolers start three hours later every day, so they can get some experience at every period of day where they may find themselves working 2-20 years later. Or alternatively, we could schedule their days appropriately for their age. One of the main reasons given for this proposal is an accident near Eisenhower/West/Whitman. It's a good idea to spread out the traffic in this area by changing the start/end time of those specific schools. But it is telling that this is being used as a reason to change the times of every school in the district. The students in these schools have traffic speed limits of 15 mph to contend with. Students on the east side of Tosa have to maneuver legal traffic of 20 mph. Students are hit by cars on the east side of Tosa as well. A more obvious solution that makes sense to address a traffic problem is to align these speed limits and to lower them.
Irish Guy 53213 April 13, 2012 at 03:26 PM
I hope everyone has also replied on the district sight so they can see all of our comments. Did I miss it in the article, is there going to be a public meeting?

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