As the dust settles from last month’s surprise victory for proponents of starting school later, Ridgefield educators now face a bigger challenge: getting the project off the ground.

The work has settled mainly into two fronts: developing transportation data to make sure kids get to school on time despite the later schedule, and winning the hearts and minds of parents and students through a coordinated campaign of social media posts, newsletters, and, yes, memes to — as Superintendent Karen Baldwin put it — “flood the positive communication” around the start times project.  

The district has assigned Dr. Robert Miller, director of technology and operations development for the town public schools, as the project manager for later school start times.

Business Manager Paul Hendrickson will be heading up transportation concerns for the project.

Miller gave an update on the project at the board’s Nov. 13 meeting, in which he outlined part of the pitch he’s formulating to help parents and students come on board.  

‘Rude and aggressive’

The public relations campaign comes as board members have run up against intense opposition to the plan from some corners — which in some cases has turned downright mean.

Emails sent to the board over the start times plan have become so abusive that Board of Education Chairwoman Fran Walton took a moment at the start of the meeting to address the language she had received.

“I don’t think we’re the only school district suffering with a lack of courtesy and civility,” Walton said. “Some of the emails that the board received are beyond disagreeable and discourteous, and are downright rude and aggressive.”

“I’d just like to remind everyone,” she added, “that we are volunteers. We are your neighbors — this is a community, we are your friends. We socialize with you, we worship with you, our children are friends. We try and strive to be the best we can when we’re sitting at this table.”

Social media solution

Miller explained that the project is pushing out on multiple platforms, including Twitter (@RPS_Start_Time), where Miller posts a weekly video blog on the start times project.

Also in the works is a “meme” Miller and his team created to display on the television monitors that hang in the entranceways of Ridgefield schools.

Widely shared on social media, memes are most often humorous images or videos used to get a basic idea across, such as the image of a grumpy cat.

The meme Miller created showed an ordinary wristwatch with the public school seal in place of the watch face.

“In Ridgefield, we believe when adolescents sleep is important and we view it as a critical component of students’ overall health and well-being,” the caption beside the watch reads.

Transportation

The district’s charm offensive will also highlight the work being done to actually bus kids to school at a later time, something that caused a stir when the district was debating whether to adopt the policy in the first place.

Baldwin said the consulting agency hired by the district to develop new bus routes for the project hopes to have new bell time scenarios to the board sometime between January and March.

“We’re really trying to make sure that our system is running as efficiently and effectively and timely — and safe — as possible,” said Baldwin.