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The City School District wants to extend the school day at eight elementary schools next year as part of Superintendent Bolgen Vargas' push to get students more time in the classroom.
Vargas has been talking about the importance of a longer school day since he took over as superintendent, saying that the extra time is key to helping students who may be behind. Just about 20 percent of city students read at grade level.
A longer day, Vargas says, will also give teachers more time for planning, communicating with parents and implementing new programs that are being mandated by the state and federal governments.
"We are asking schools to do more and more, but we are not giving them time to do it in," Vargas said.
Ultimately, he wants to see a longer school day districtwide.
But first, the plan must secure support from teachers. Each of the schools slated for a longer day must conduct a vote of its staff and garner 80 percent support to negotiate new contract terms that allow for the extra time. Vargas made his pitch to teachers during a conference on Tuesday.
"This is such an important change that it really doesn't stand a chance if it doesn't have ownership from the teachers," said Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski.
The schools included in Vargas' plans are Schools 3, 10 19, 23, 34, 45 and 46. Those schools will spend the next nine months coming up with plans for what they will do with the extra time and receive support from the National Center for Time and Learning, which supports districts in five states that are looking to extend their school days.
The effort in Rochester underscores a national push to provide students with more time for learning. Many educators argue that more time in the classroom is essential to helping students improve their academic performance. More time can also mean more chances for individualized tutoring or enrichment activities, something that has become more important as requirements for schools have made it difficult to fit everything into a school day. School districts all over the country are pushing to extend their school days, or even the school year.
Several city schools already have longer school days, including three that are piloting new programs this year. School 9 was able to extend its school day through a partnership with Baden Street Settlement, which runs after-school enrichment programs for students. Northeast College Preparatory High School is working with Wegmans Food Markets Inc. as part of its extended day program. And at All City High, longer school hours give students options for when they can take their classes.
Although efforts in Rochester are fairly new, school leaders from other districts spoke to teachers during Tuesday's conference about their results. Those leaders, and one parent, said that the longer hours allowed them to offer students enrichment programs, and teachers had more time to communicate with one another and parents.
"When I came into the school parents were pulling their kids out," said Nancy Mullen, principal at Kuss Middle School in Fall River, Mass. "Now there's a waiting list."
Still, some teachers may be viewing the plan with caution. The plan comes at a time teachers are taking on more responsibility because of new state and federal requirements, including the common core standards that aim to align curricula across the country.
Teachers have also been taking note how other programs in the city are unfolding. The program at Northeast College Prep got off to a bumpy start, due in part to difficulty negotiating contract terms and extra compensation for teachers. Wegmans also had issues recruiting the volunteers it originally said the school needed to help run the programs.
"The drawback is that the district is asking to extend the day when teachers are without the resources to roll out the new common core now," said Matt Lavonas, a School 2 teacher. "The books we need haven't been provided and teachers are trying to buy them on their own with little success. Add that to a new evaluation system that hasn't been fully thought out and it is a lot to implement at one time."
"I don't think there is one teacher that would say no if you can show them that it would help students," Lavonas added. "But without the proper resources and a well thought out plan for implementation even the best program is not going to be successful."