School Start Time Conference - Session 12:

Changing School Start Times:
Leadership at the District and State Levels
- Kenneth Dragseth, PhD
- Anthony J. Portantino


In my 6 years as Trustee, this was by far the best conference I’ve attended. The breadth of presentations was excellent and truly provided the overview I needed.
— School Board Member

Kenneth Dragseth, PhD, Retired Superintendent, Edina, MN and Lecturer, College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota.
Anthony J. Portantino, California Senator Representing the 25th Senate District

Leadership for Change at the State and Local level:  In this presentation, Dr. Kenneth Dragseth of Edina, Minnesota and California Senator Anthony Portantino speak to the role of leadership in effecting change at the state and local levels.

1.  Leadership for Change at the Local Level:  In 1996, the Edina School District in Minnesota became the first school district in the United States to move to healthy school start times.  Dr. Kenneth Dragseth, the Edina Superintendent led the change.  In this powerful presentation, Dr. Dragseth recounts the chain of events that led to the change, starting with a letter from the Minnesota Medical Association to 340 school districts and culminating with the Edina School District deciding to make the change.

Dr. Dragseth describes the critical leadership role played by the school board and school administration in making the change.  In the face of opposition to a change in the status quo from student athletes, parents, teachers, coaches, and other school districts, the Edina school leadership remained steadfast, guided by one overriding priority:  “The greater good is the good of the kids….If it good for the kids, we are going to do it.”

Once the decision to change start times was made, Dr. Dragseth stresses that implementing the change required ongoing courage, will power, and determination.  He describes the importance of the planning process, the resolute commitment to overcome obstacles, communicating with the community, and providing ample time for people to adjust their schedules.  But the effort is worth it because:  “It works.”  Dr. Dragseth describes the dramatic and long-lasting improvement in the  “climate of the school” in terms of academics, attendance, tardiness, and the improved emotional and physical health of the students. 

2.  Leadership for Change at the State Level:  In 2017, Senator Anthony Portantino introduced Senate Bill 328 into the California state legislature, which would require middle schools and high schools to start at 8:30am or later. Senator Portantino explains that major medical organizations and leading sleep experts have strongly recommended that middle schools and high schools  start no earlier than 8:30am as an urgent matter of adolescent health.  He argues that the medical and scientific evidence for this recommendation is so compelling that public policy should directly address the problem and spur implementation of later school start times. He notes that empirical results from schools that have moved to later school start times have shown improved academic performance, attendance rates, student attention, family interaction and fewer car crashes. 

Senator Portantino explains that one of the advantages of a state-wide mandate to change school start times is that it would eliminate the scheduling conflicts that inevitably arise among school districts when one school district changes start times and other nearby school districts do not.  It would be easier for each school district to change start times if all school districts made the change.  He emphasizes that the bill is designed to provide sufficient planning time for school districts to make the change.

Senator Portantino also discusses the politics of the bill, and specifically on the positions taken by the two largest California state teachers unions, the PTA, and the California School Board Association.  His approach has been to “lead with the facts” by bringing leading subject matter experts to testify at public hearings on the bill.  

Summarizing his approach, Senator Portantino says: “The best politics is when you do the right thing for the right reason.”

Kenneth Dragseth, PhD
Ken Dragseth is a retired superintendent from Edina, MN,  which, under his leadership, was the first school district in the nation to delay its high school start time specifically to follow the recommendation of sleep experts and health professionals. Today he runs a consulting company that specializes in superintendent searches and program and leadership support to school boards and district personnel. He has been a mathematics teacher, middle school principal and assistant principal, curriculum director, assistant superintendent, and superintendent for 14 years. Dr. Dragseth has 49 years in education, was National Superintendent of the Year in 2003, and has received numerous other state and national awards for his educational expertise and work. He is also active on several organizational and college boards. Dr. Dragseth holds a PhD from the University of Minnesota in educational administration and education.

Senator Anthony J. Portantino
Senator Anthony J. Portantino represents California’s 25th State Senate District where he chairs the Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee No. 1 on Education and serves on five Standing Committees: Banking and Finance, Budget and Fiscal Review, Governmental Organization, Insurance, and Public Employment and Retirement. His accomplishments during his three terms serving in the State Assembly included establishing California's umbilical cord blood collection program, regulating "for profit" colleges, banning the "open carry" of guns on Main Street California, and increasing legislative transparency and accountability. Senator Portantino has a long and distinguished record of civic and community service that includes nearly eight years on the La Cañada Flintridge City Council, with two terms as Mayor and Vice Chair of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Advisory Committee. He also served as President of the League of California Cities Mayors and Council members Department, and as the Legislative Chair of the California Contract Cities Association.  He has served on many local non-profit boards and is active in the PTA and many community organizations.