Public ire thwarts plan for longer school day


Getting rapped over the knuckles by parents and teachers, school officials shelved plans to expand school hours by 30 minutes, but are pushing to increase the year by two days.

The two-pronged proposal was intended to boost preparation for annual state standards of learning tests, cut down on the time teachers spend out of the classroom for professional development and give administrators flexibility when making up for snow days. The plan drew mostly criticism during the public’s first chance to comment Thursday night. 

In a stark contrast on the previous week’s quick discussion of the district’s 10-year multimillion dollar capital improvement plan, the board spent about two hours hearing from teachers and parents either miffed by the plan or the fast track approach taken by officials. While PTA presidents declined to take a side citing a lack of consensus among members they criticized the board for rushing the process. 

The proposal to extend the school day and year could have real merit … for many of our students, said Karen McManis, president of the PTA Council. It could also require rapid and lasting changes across our system only to increase quantity without quality.

Parents worried a longer school day will stress or bore students, keep them from extracurricular activities and cut into family time. They also critiqued the vague details of how the time would be spent. Last year’s informal preview of an extended classroom day, enacted to make up for school time lost during the winter’s storms, left a sour taste in the mouths of many.

Amy Firestone recounted how her son, a Hammond Middle School student had to drop a dance class. He didn’t gain much from the added classroom time, she said. 

He didn’t mind at first until the extra time was spent on the SOLs, she said. What it really came down to was drill and kill and it was keeping him from the class he really liked.

Firestone wasn’t alone. Parent Brian Ply slammed the proposal as ill conceived. Some students might benefit from extra time in the classroom, but not all of them, he said, warning the board they risked the wrath of voters by moving ahead without spelling out the details.

While bowing to the concerns of many in attendance, Sherman signaled he will keep pushing for more time in the classroom, potentially expanding the school calendar to 190 days in the future. 

The time that a teacher spends in the classroom is important and meaningful, Sherman said. To reject that time is valuable to is to reject quality of great teachers.

The Education Association of Alexandria also came out against the plan, with members blasting the board and administration for failing to seek teacher input and outline compensation for longer workdays, among other complaints.

We see through the shell games being played with our time and money, Dawn Lucas, EAA vice president, said to cheers and applause. We are willing to do whatever it takes to see our students to succeed. We are the experts, not highly paid consultants.

Chairman Yvonne Folkerts indicated the board heard similar rumblings leading up to the public hearing. While she supports extra time in the classroom, Folkerts requested the board hold off on making a decision about adding 30 minutes to the school day until the board’s January 20 meeting. 

Still, the board will take action on the proposal to add two extra days to the school year at the behest of Sherman. Next week, the board will likely vote to petition the state board of education for a waiver to begin the school calendar on August 29, rather than waiting until after Labor Day.