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Students In 3 State Districts To Spend More Hours In School Next Year

East Hartford, New London, Meriden Selected For National Initiative Program


December 03, 2012

Students at selected public schools in East Hartford, Meriden and New London will spend significantly more time in school next year as part of a national program that will be formally announced this morning in Washington, D.C.

Connecticut is one of five states involved in the initiative, supported by the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit.

The initiative will be unveiled at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., where Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor will join U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooer at the announcement.

The program is expected to extend students' school year by hundreds of hours one estimate is 300 hours or more starting in the fall of 2013.

The move to lengthen school days and the school year has attracted great support across the country as educators look for ways to turn around troubled schools and improve student performance, particularly for low-income children in areas where achievement has been low.

Districts have added time to students' schooling by lengthening the school day, holding school on Saturday, or adding school days during the summer. The Connecticut districts will have a chance to develop their own plan for extended hours.

Malloy has made closing the achievement gap a major tenet of his administration; many troubled school districts are taking steps to improve student performance in various ways, including exploring the possibility of increasing school time.

Only a small number of schools in each district selected in Connecticut will participate in the new program. School officials in those districts said Friday they were pleased that their schools were chosen.

"As a district, we're always looking for creative ways to meet our students' needs," Meriden School Superintendent Mark D. Benigni said. "We want to be part of something that is innovative and fun and hopefully will produce great student results."

"It's not just adding time," New London School Superintendent Nicholas Fischer said. "Simply adding time doesn't improve student achievement. It's engaging kids, capturing their interest and getting them to do things that give them practice in the skills they need to improve."

While public charter schools have frequently made longer schools days or years a hallmark of their programs, it has been relatively rare for ordinary public schools to do so because of the extra costs and other complications. Financial details of the national initiative are expected to be explained at Monday's announcement.

The National Center on Time & Learning, which provides technical assistance to districts to help them develop a strong plan for extending school days or the school year, said on its website that "districts and schools are apprehensive about taking on the challenge of expanding their school schedule given resource restrictions and a lack of understanding of effective practices and school redesign models."

Representatives of the center did not want to speak publicly about the new initiative until Monday, but their website said, "We help district leaders create comprehensive planning processes that redesign the school day and year, from the ground up, to better meet the needs of the 21st century."

The website said that "evidence is mounting that more quality learning time can significantly boost student achievement" and that the center has provided support to more than a hundred schools and districts.

In Meriden, with the help of an American Federation of Teachers innovation grant, the district has already added 90 minutes to the schedule of Casimir Pulaski Elementary School. Students begin their day at 7:30 a.m. with a free breakfast and an exercise program and then engage in a science, math, or literacy activity for 40 minutes all before the usual start of the day at about 9 a.m

"When you mess with the school year, you're messing with a lot of tradition," said Pulaski Principal Dan Coffey. "When you talk about it, people say, 'What are you crazy? What the heck are you doing that for?'"

But Coffey said: "I feel it's the right thing. ... These kids are getting an opportunity. What are they missing, SpongeBob? Another video? That's what we are sacrificing."

Benigni, the Meriden superintendent, said teachers participate on a voluntary basis, earning a stipend of about $20 an hour. The extra time daily will add about 40 days of school time to the 180-day school calendar. So far, Benigni said, the reviews of the program have been strong. He said he has even heard from parents of children at other schools who would like it to be expanded to their kids' schools.

"We are not doing this as remediation," Benigni said. "This is truly enrichment. We're doing this because we think it will be fun, it will increase learning and maybe give students some of the skills they need long term to be successful. I think the fact that it's not just more of the same has excited students. It's more hands-on."

Benigni said he is looking forward to working with the National Center on Time & Learning to get its insights into the program at Pulaski and also to increase school time at John Barry Elementary School in Meriden.

Coffey, the principal at Pulaski, said the extra time is not about drilling for the state's standardized mastery test. "We hope scores will go up, but we won't judge it on that," said Coffey.

"If we said, 'Come to school and everyone is going to get tutored and you're going to write and write and write,' I'd have a rebellion here," Coffey said. "We want it to be fun."

Mary Jean Giannetti, science facilitator for Meriden elementary schools, said she sees a difference at Pulaski.

"I've worked at Pulaski for 13 years and I'm seeing that the kids are really making gains," she said. The long day is "tiring but it's worth it," Giannetti said. "It's a breakthrough that I haven't seen before and I work in every school."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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