By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Teachers, parents, students and administrators agree making the school year longer for some city students will yield rewards.
“We believe that an extended school day, when done properly, can improve academic performance and add enrichment opportunities for students,” Jeffrey C. Riley, the state-appointed superintendent/receiver, said after an announcement Lawrence will take part in a five-state pilot program that could add an extra 100 hours of classroom instruction a year in some schools, on top of the 200 houurs already being added at most schools.
Most students in the city will spend an extra 200 hours in the classroom beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year as part of the school turnaround plan announced this summer.
Those schools that participate in the pilot rogram would spend an additional 100 on top of that. Six schools in Lawrence have applied, but not yet known how many will participate.
Lawrence already has several schools that offer extended hours — UP Academy Lawrence, the Fifth Grade Academy at South Lawrence East, Community Day at Arlington School and Phoenix Academy.
“This year is a planning year, when principals will work with parents and teachers in their communities to determine each individual school’s need,” Riley said.
Lawrence and Fall River were the two districts selected by the National Center on Time and Learning in Massachusetts. More than 19,500 students in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Colorado and Tennessee will participate. The Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time & Learning are also contributing resources.
It is hoped the initiative will improve the global competitiveness of U.S. students by expanding and better using the school day.
Massachusetts already has 65 schools with expanded learning time programs, including 19 state-funded schools with about 10,700 students. The state was early adopter of expanded learning, starting its programs in 2006. The programs were funded this year with $14.1 million in grants.
In Lawrence, the focus will be on the elementary schools with grades 1 through 8.
Riley said each school will submit a plan to him in the spring.
“Extending the day for high school students is a tool that could possibly be explored and employed there in the future,” said Christopher Markuns, spokesman for the Lawrence public schools. “But for now there are multiple reasons for keeping the standard schedule, including the additional logistical complications of sports, extracurriculars, etc..”
“I think it’s a very good idea because research has shown by adding as little as 45 minutes a day, benefits children,” said Frank McLaughlin, president of the Lawrence Teacher’s Union.
“Extending the academic year is not the panacea the department of education needs. There are other things that need to be done to solve the problems faced by families in Lawrence such as housing, jobs, adult literacy and ESL,” McLaughlin said.
Blair Brown, director of communication for the National Center on Time and Learning, which is launching the pilot program said Lawrence and Fall River were chosen after the state’s department of education identified the districts with the most students living in poverty and struggling with achievement.
“Overall, both Fall River and Lawrence have been committed to turning over their schools and that’s the commitment we were looking for,” Brown said.
During the next year, teachers, administrators and parents will meet to come up with ideas on how to best use the extra hours which may include having longer days or adding time during the summer months.
“We want to make sure students have more time with the best teachers to get the academic suport they need to help them thrive and expose them to enrichment opportunities in music, art and drama,” Brown said.
There were six schools in Lawrence selected including South Lawrence East.
“It will depend on each school to determine their priority,” said Mary Toomey, principal at South Lawrence East Elementary.
“It’s a mistake to make it a cure-all and having extra time for time’s sake because it’s not going to get us the results we need. We need a good analysis of student data and how to make it manageable for teachers and most meaningful to students.”
At South Lawrence East, Toomey would like to see more time for math and have first- and second-graders do science experiments.
Third-grader Jason Gilbert who likes science, said he would like to see a science club after school. Others like Jordan Urban-Mailly agree with having extra time at school.
“It will give us more time to learn things that we haven’t learned before,” Jordan said.
Leomary Colon, an eighth-grader at South Lawrence East, also would not mind staying in school longer.
“We would be more advanced in our classes, help us pass the MCAs, prepare us for high school and it will help us get ready for college,” Leomary said.
District F School Committee member James Blatchford said he is not opposed to the idea, but has two concerns.
“One thing we should pay attention to is the teachers who have to work longer hours without negotiating a contract,” he said.
“I want to know what’s going to happen when the receiver leaves and the money runs out. We need to get a definite answer because it will be thrown on the School Committee and we’ll be the bad guys when we have to cut programs,” Blatchford said.
McLaughlin, a teacher for 33 years and union president for 10 years, agreed.
“I want to make sure my teachers are compensated,” he said.
Editor's note: The story has been modified from its original vestion to clarify that not all schools will add an extra 100 hours on top of the 200 already planed.