EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 30, 2008

Lack of teacher support threatens longer school days, committee member says

By Shawn Regan , Staff Writer

HAVERHILL - If the city is to have longer academic days at two middle schools, Haverhill must persuade more teachers to support the plan, School Committee member Scott Wood said.

Superintendent Raleigh Buchanan said Haverhill hopes to receive state approval for the longer days starting with the 2009-2010 school year. Proponents of the longer day, designed to give students extra time with core subjects like math and English, as well as more activities like art and music, said it will work if teachers support it.

But Wood said he understands many teachers at one of the schools, Consentino Middle School, oppose a longer day.

"I think the problem is that the superintendent is driving this idea, and that he isn't involving enough people at the two schools that are considering it," Wood said of Consentino and Whittier Middle School. "To be going forward with something this drastic without involving everyone isn't smart."

Consentino submitted a proposal to the state for longer days starting in September 2009, but that plan has been rejected by state education officials. Wood said there are only a few staff members at Whittier developing its longer-day proposal, and that he expects the result there will be the same as at Consentino unless the review is broadened to include many more teachers and parents, as well as secretaries and custodians who would be affected.

J.C. Considine, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said the district's application was missing detailed information about how Consentino would provide for a longer day.

"They told us they want more time for more English and math, but they didn't provide specific information on how they were going to pay for it or staff it," Considine said. "We have encouraged them to submit a new application for the 2009 school year."

A letter from the Department of Education to Buchanan reads, in part, "Our review has determined that the plan does not meet the criteria for approval and will therefore not be eligible for state funding in Fiscal Year 2009," which includes the 2008-2009 school year.

The letter said Haverhill has two options for Consentino: submit a new proposal by July 31 for the school year that starts in September 2009; or apply for a new planning grant that would position the school to begin a longer day in September 2010.

Buchanan said Consentino will go forward with plans to increase its academic day for the 2009-2010 school year. He said the one-year delay isn't a problem because more time is needed to craft the proposal and secure the required support of teachers and parents anyway.

The state is giving districts that go forward with longer days $1,300 per student to pay for the extended learning time, which would mean about $777,000 per year for Consentino.

The Consentino proposal called for lengthening the school day there by two hours in the 2008-2009 year.

Currently, the regular school day at Whittier and Consentino ends at 2:45 p.m. Whittier has not yet come up with a specific proposal for the state.

Consentino and Whittier have received $15,000 from the state to study and plan for a longer day.

Consentino Principal James Scully said parents were surveyed about a longer day last year, and that plans are in the works to form a group of parents and teachers to further explore the idea. He said the only decision his teachers have made about a longer day is that they want more information and more time to consider it. Whittier Principal Beth Kitsos did not return phone calls.

The goals of longer school days are to improve students' scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test and ultimately to help them compete for college admissions and then jobs with students in other parts of the world who are spending more time in the classroom, Buchanan said. The United States lags well behind most European and Asian countries in hours students spend in the classroom as well as in mathematics achievement.

To receive state funding, a school must extend the time students spend in school by 300 hours a year, on top of the current 180 six-hour days. Schools may meet the criteria by lengthening the school day or the school year, or a combination.

Implementation requires approval first from the teachers union, then the School Committee, and then the state Department of Education. But before any of that can happen, parents and teachers must get behind the idea and craft a specific plan for their school.

The two Haverhill middle schools are among about 75 Massachusetts schools in dozens of districts planning to lengthen their academic day within the next two years. Eighteen have already done so since 2006.


How it works

* Adds at least 300 hours for all students to the current academic year of 180 six-hour days. This can be done by lengthening the school year, the school day or a combination of both.

* Increases time for core subjects such as reading, writing, math and English.

* Provides activities like art, music and sports. Participating schools offer activities like swimming, weight training, cheerleading, woodworking and cooking.

* Creates more teacher planning and training.

* Once approved by state, schools get $1,300 per student per year, for at least five years.