Day to get longer at Norwalk elementary schools
Published 11:35 am, Thursday, December 7, 2017
NORWALK — At least half of the city’s elementary school children will receive the equivalent of 13 additional days of instructional time beginning next year.
The Norwalk Board of Education unanimously approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Norwalk Federation of Teachers Tuesday night that will increase the elementary school day by 30 minutes next year. The memo gives the board the option to implement the change at all elementary schools next year or to roll it out as a pilot program involving half the schools in the 2018-19 school year and the other half in the 2019-20 school year.
The increased instructional time will make the elementary school day the same length as the middle schools and was agreed upon in exchange for guaranteed prep time for elementary school teachers — something that is currently lacking, according to NFT president Mary Yordon.
“The board got 30 minutes of instructional time and teachers in exchange got better language for preparation periods to prepare their lessons, and an additional early release day during teacher-parent conference times, which I think is a win-win for families, the district and teachers,” Yordon said.
The elementary school day is currently six hours and five minutes long — one of the shortest school days in the state — and although elementary school teachers are supposed to receive 150 minutes of prep time per week, Yordon said language regarding the policy was weak and many teachers missed out on necessary time to prepare lessons.
The new language offers more protections for prep time, guaranteeing 40 minutes of prep time four days per week for teachers at elementary and K-8 schools. The time is used at the discretion of the teacher and can not be subject to administrative assignment, such as Planning and Placement Team meetings or pre- and post-observation conferences. Yordon said the existing policy does not protect prep time from from administrative assignment
Guaranteeing and scheduling prep time is more challenging at the elementary level than in middle schools as students do not rotate classes throughout the day. Instead, prep time is limited to times when students are in gym, music and art classes or in the library, Yordon said.
“We’re delighted to help bring meaningful change to the district,” Yordon said. “The extended day will allow for increased instructional time and the teachers look forward to using it to benefit their students.”
Mike Lyons, chairman of the Negotiations and Personnel Committee, said the negotiations with the NFT were conducted in a collegial manner, and said the changes allow the district to achieve an objective in the strategic operating plan to increase instructional time.
“We calculated that additional half-hour a day is equal to roughly 13 additional days of instructional time in the course of the year for elementary school students and that is a big move forward,” Lyons said.
The memo also provides for one additional day of instruction to be implemented in either the current school year or the 2018-19 academic year. Each step on the district’s salary schedule will be compensated an additional $250 for the extra day. The day has already been scheduled into the current year, but could be moved to next year if the district determines it doesn’t have the funds in the current fiscal year budget.
Board member Bruce Kimmel said the increased instructional time will significantly benefit students.
“If you add the extra day, you’re talking about 14 days additional days of instructional time,” Kimmel said. “This begins to add up over the course of an elementary school career.”
An earlier Memorandum of Understanding between the board and NFT also allows the district to consider a 200-day schedule for year-round schools, Lyons said.
“It gives us the option subject to budget availability and also building availability,” Lyons said. “This is something we might do with new K-8 schools. It’s an excellent step forward. It’s going to be a real addition to the strength of our educational program.”
Kimmel agreed, saying increased instructional time has been on his radar for years.
“It’s going to be costly but well worth it,” Kimmel said. “The data on the summer lag goes back to the 1970s. This is an old story that’s beginning to get attention. I’m just really thrilled that we’re beginning to move in this direction. We are doing an injustice to students by not adjusting our schedule to deal with what goes on in the summer. We can do that. We can make real inroads on increasing achievement all around, but definitely closing the achievement gap. If we can move to a year-round schedule and at the same time really provide quality pre-school across the board, we are really going to be a model for school districts around the country.”
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