Gov. Dannel Malloy said today that a pilot program to extend learning time in the New London Public Schools and two other Connecticut school districts will help drive a needed adaptation of educational models to better reflect student needs.
The elementary schools and Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School will be part of the program to add 300 additional hours to the 2013-2014 school calendar. Malloy visited the Winthrop School as well as schools in East Hartford and Meriden, whose districts will also be part of the program.
“We need to think about every day differently than we have in the past, and that’s why this collaborative effort that’s been mentioned is so exciting,” said Malloy.
The three-year pilot program will be financed by federal, state, and local funding as well as the Ford Foundation and National Center on Time and Learning. Malloy said that eight Connecticut school districts identified as being in the 30 lowest performing in the state have made voluntary efforts to increase school time as part of improvement plans submitted for additional state funding.
Jennifer Davis, co-founder of the National Center on Time and Learning, said the additional time will broaden student opportunities and allow teachers to have more time to coordinate and plan lessons. Malloy said the program will also allow low-performing districts to close the achievement gap with other districts.
“You can never catch up if you’re devoting as much time to learning as someone who’s three steps ahead of you,” he said.
Dr. Nicholas Fischer, superintendent of New London Public Schools, said increased instructional time at the New London High School is not being included in this program because additional learning time will be incorporated as part of an improvement grant. He said the district will work with teachers and other employees to determine where the extra hours are most applicable and how they can complement extracurricular activities. Additional time may be added in the afternoon, on weekends, or during the summer.
“We see expanded learning time as an extension of what we’re trying to do during the day, and we see opportunities for what we want to do throughout the year,” said Fischer.
Elizabeth Sked, a Winthrop School kindergarten teacher and vice president of the New London Education Association, said the teachers’ union was informed of the proposed calendar extension over the summer.
“We’re definitely in support of the best education for the students and cooperating with the district to move this project forward,” she said. “We definitely have some concerns.”
Sked said the district will have to negotiate with the New London Education Association if the program will require teachers to work additional hours or days. She said there are also concerns on how the extended calendar model could be sustained beyond the three-year program.
Davis said the National Center on Time and Learning and the Ford Foundation are dedicated to funding the program and researching how to keep it running.
“We’re committed to the long term,” she said. “This isn’t just a three-year effort.”
Malloy said it is possible to create sustainable models that do not require additional funding. He said one option would be to stagger staffing over the course of a school day.
“Part of this program is to move us beyond the idea of, ‘We need a lot of new money,’” he said.
Kate Ericson, the chief academic officer for New London Public Schools, said the district and other Connecticut schools looking to increase their learning time have done studies to see how school time is being used and how it can be better managed. She said there will also be efforts to reach out to community partners for collaborative efforts, including a public forum on Jan. 7.
“What’s nice is that it’s going to be an organic process,” she said. “No program will look the same…Hopefully it will maximize the opportunities for students in each school.”