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Education Matters: Good news from Sacramento for kids

Hallelujah! At last, later school start times for California’s public middle and high schools are about to become the law.

This has been the bane of my existence for nearly the entire 20-plus years I’ve been writing for these newspapers.

I’ve rallied for later start times since 1998 when I learned that the start time at Torrey Pines High School was an unbelievable 7:15 a.m.

Back then, the movement calling for later start times gained traction and asked for 8:15 a.m. But a wimpy school board caved to special interests and split the baby, changing the start time to a still too early 7:45 a.m.

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When Canyon Crest Academy opened in 2004, then principal David Jaffe wisely set start times at 8:30 a.m. But in 2010, vocal parents (mostly sports enthusiasts) prevailed, pressuring misguided administrators with upside-down priorities to move the start time back to 8 a.m.

Claiming that these decisions should be made on a local level rather than by state mandate, opponents of later start times fail to recognize the power that unions and other special interests have on school boards.

And it’s always easier to make no changes than any change at all — even a change that scientific evidence clearly shows has a beneficial effect on student health and academic achievement.

The research is indisputable — teenagers experience a changing circadian rhythm that makes it difficult to fall asleep at an early hour, so most are deprived of their needed hours of sleep.

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This lack of adequate sleep negatively affects performance in school and social relationships, and contributes to obesity, irritability, depression, anxiety, absenteeism and behavioral problems.

School districts that say they put “Students First,” and then continue to set start times too early, are not being honest. It’s a health crisis, as the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, and it’s taken an act of the state legislature to finally get adults in charge to do the right thing.

With Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Senate Bill 328, middle schools can begin no earlier than 8 a.m. and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Anthony Portantino, takes effect in 2022.

Zero periods will be allowed, so those few early-bird students can still rise with the dawn and head to schools that offer this option.

Said Portantino in a statement in EdSource, “Today, Governor Newsom displayed a heartwarming and discerning understanding of the importance of objective research and exercised strong leadership as he put our children’s health and welfare ahead of institutional bureaucracy resistant to change. Generations of children will come to appreciate this historic day and our governor for taking bold action.”

Critics of the bill included the Calif. School Boards Association and the Calif. Teachers Association.

More good-news laws

California’s tougher vaccination rules can also be celebrated. Along with mandating later school start times, making it harder to opt out of routine childhood vaccinations that can protect children too young or too frail to receive vaccines is another milestone for children’s health.

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More good news that will protect children is the governor’s signature on a law that bans gun shows at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Congratulations to Del Mar resident Rose Ann Sharp for her tireless efforts to make this happen.

The bill was sponsored by San Diego mayoral candidate Todd Gloria and was also supported by another mayoral candidate, Barbara Bry.

And kudos to Newsom for banning lunch shaming, so-called for singling out students who have unpaid lunch bills by giving them alternative meals. This received national attention after news surfaced of a 9-year-old boy who used his allowance money to pay fellow students’ lunch debts.

For high school juniors and seniors, the good news is the possibility that the University of California may make the SAT optional.

As more and more colleges begin to see that rich kids who can pay for tutors have an unfair advantage over less wealthy students, it’s clear that SAT results say more about a student’s socio-economic class than their scholastic ability.

Good riddance, hopefully, to a test that rakes in millions to College Board, a “nonprofit” that pays its many executives six-figure salaries.

Locally, the Del Mar Union School District is finally making Spanish language instruction available. This comes many years after former Del Mar Heights School principal Wendy Wardlow tried her best to offer Spanish but was shot down for basically being too innovative.

Sadly, Newsom failed to support a bill that would have required full-day kindergarten, even though studies have resoundingly shown that kids, especially those from lower-income families where pre-school is not affordable, do better academically with full-day K.

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It’s another example of how academic achievement is clearly linked to income levels.

Pay for local superintendents

A recent article in the San Diego Union-Tribune listed San Diego’s 20 top-paid superintendents, according to 2018 data from transparentcalifornia.com, noting that 32 of the county’s 40 superintendents received annual salaries and benefits exceeding $200,000.

San Dieguito Union High School District superintendent Robert Haley was not on the list, because his full-time employment at SDUHSD began Nov. 1, 2018.

But Transparent California does have Haley’s salary for the preceding year, 2017, when he was employed as supt. of the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District in Sonoma County.

That year his regular pay was $194,786, with $2,835 in other pay and $44,009 in benefits, bringing his total to $241,630.

Haley just received a raise from the SDUHSD school board this past June, and now receives a base salary of $261,590, not including other pay or benefits.

So he clearly would make the list of the top 20.

Another local supt., Holly McClurg of Del Mar, was 12th on the list of the highest paid superintendents in 2018.

McClurg made $252,718 in base salary, with $13,000 in other pay and $48,670 in benefits, totaling $314,388.

— Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.


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