Who knew that shortening the school day for Newton high-school students was on the table?  Well, anyone who closely follows School Committee meetings, I guess. Jeffrey Pontiff recently wrote an open-letter email on this topic (entitled “Save Newton Schools”), and it’s been forwarded among Newton residents and discussed on various local listservs. The School Committee has written an email in response to inquiries about it.  Both emails are copied below.  If you have questions about this topic or these emails, please ask in comments below.  And if you have answers — or opinions — chime in.  I hope the authors of these emails will respond to questions here aiming to clarify what’s going on.

All of this is related to the possible change of high-school starting times, which the School Committee has been working on for at least three years. Jeffrey Pontiff has been a strong proponent of implementing later start times as soon as possible. Here is the School Committee’s record of activity on high-school start times

The School Committee will hear a presentation about shortening the high-school day at its next meeting, on December 10 at 7 PM in Room 210 at the Education Center, 100 Walnut Street. 

Here’s Jeffrey’s open-letter email:

Dear Neighbor,
The Newton School Committee is about to make a horrible decision that will hurt Newton students. You can stop it. Are you willing?
The public has demanded later high school start-times, to improve health and learning. The School Committee has failed to do this. Instead, it plans to start school at the same time but end early. This will shorten the school day–cutting the equivalent of over 3 weeks of school time per year! Newton’s school time will be 4½ weeks shorter per year than Weston’s and 4 weeks shorter than Brookline’s. The school committee won’t act on later start times until, at least, the 2020-2021 school year. That’s ridiculous.
Evidence shows that shorter school days result in lower academic achievement and higher achievement gaps. 
If the school day is shortened without a firm commitment to later start times NOW, it will never get done.
The School Committee will unveil this new schedule publicly and potentially vote at the December 10 School Committee meeting.
The public has been hoodwinked. You probably do not know about the severity of the cut because the School Committee has resisted telling the community. It even refused to include a question about a shortened school day in its recent survey of high-school parents.
No parent wants the school day to end early. It’s time to speak up.
Please contact Mayor Fuller before the December 10 vote. She is a member of the School Committee and a key driver of this decision. If she stands up for our children, the school day will remain intact.  
Call Mayor Fuller at (617) 796-1100 or email her:  [email protected]and tell her,
  • As a Newton resident, you value education.
  • The School Committee should listen to parents.
  • The school day should NOT be shortened.
  • We need later start-times for high school now. 
Thank you for your actions.
Jeffrey Pontiff
PS.  Please email me at [email protected] if you would like occasional emails about school issues.
And here is the email that School Committee representative Matthew Miller is sending in response to inquiries on this topic:
Dear _______,
Thank you for writing us to inquire about the email sent out on November 29th entitled “Save Newton Schools.”
Here is what the school committee has discussed and we want you to have the most accurate and up to date information:
  1. The information on the proposed HS schedule that will be presented at the upcoming December 10th meeting will be informational.  It is a proposal we will all be seeing for the first time.  No vote is taking place.
  2. The current work being done on the HS schedule is a step towards making a later high school start time a reality.  This is is the first time the schedule has been looked at in 20 years.  For the first time, we hope to have the schedules at the high schools aligned, allowing for synergies and expanded options that have never before existed.
  3. State laws regulate the number of days and hours of instruction at the high school level.  Any schedule approved by the school committee must comply with those state laws.

We understand people are passionate on both sides of this issue.  However we have a deliberate and intentional process.  We are committed to moving forward and keeping the community informed.

We encourage all members of our community to review the information on later start time posted on the Newton Public Schools website and to review the latest presentation/update we received on this subject.  Additionally we have assembled FAQs in order answer questions you may have.  
Thank you,
Matthew B. Miller
School Committee Member, Ward 8
(617) 394-8833
twitter: @mmiller942