Willmar schools begin study of later starts for secondary students


WILLMAR — The Willmar School Board has started a discussion of changing school start times to start the day later for secondary students, though it could take some time before a final decision is made.

The issue was discussed at this week's School Board workshop. Board members asked administrators to research the idea and identify changes that could be needed.

High School Principal Paul Schmitz and Middle School Principal Mark Miley presented some preliminary information.

Schmitz said the idea first came up soon after the district's $52.35 million bond referendum had passed. It was put off at that time.

"We would like to know from the board if you want us to spend time on it," Schmitz said. Miley said any change would likely be a two-year process.

They referred to a University of Minnesota study published in 2014, which indicated that teenagers can benefit academically from a later start time, because it allows them to get more sleep.

"A teenager's brain is wired differently," said Superintendent Jeff Holm. Research also indicates that elementary students are not as affected by starting school earlier in the day, he added.

The middle school and high school currently start at 8 a.m. and end at 2:45 p.m. The elementary schools start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m.

Miley said a number of area high schools have switched to later start times. Board members asked him to look into how they managed the change.

"It looks like a two-year process," Miley said. It will be important to hear from the public, too, if the district decided to move ahead with a change in start time.

"What the research doesn't show is the impact on elementary families," Schmitz said.

Board members said they wanted more information before deciding whether to move ahead with the change.

"If that would benefit our students, I think we need to take a closer look," said board member Tammy Barnes.

Holm said the administrative cabinet will discuss the idea and develop a plan. It would take time to work out the details, meet with transportation providers and give the public time to comment, he said.

Maintenance work

Building and Grounds Manager Aaron Pilarski provided an update of maintenance work done in the district over the summer. Some of the work was routine work that is done every summer. Other projects were part of the district's referendum-funded building program.

The work done included improvements to interior signs, building exteriors, parking lots and roofing. Painting and flooring replacement is done each year, too.

In the next year, the district will be installing new boilers at Kennedy Elementary, the Area Learning Center and the Willmar Education and Arts Center. Those three buildings are on the city's district heating system, which will be decommissioned in the next few years.