Denver Public Schools leaders want to add an hour to the school day for all traditional middle schools beginning this fall, and the proposal is meeting with resistance from some parents.
Concerns about the initiative are also coming from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, which has yet to approve what it sees as a change to the terms of its current collective bargaining agreement.
Several district middle schools conducted informational sessions last Thursday and some parents who attended say they were presented with a decision and not a discussion.
“I really feel deceived by DPS,” said Hamilton Middle School parent Julie Mahoney. “We all thought this was up for discussion, something being entertained. But it was decided without input from families. It was, essentially, what they have decided.”
Another Hamilton parent, Carla Witt, had a similar reaction.
“I thought this was to discuss the idea of an extended day – and then, they tell you: this is happening. So there really was no discussion,” said Witt.
“It’s offensive, in that I have a lot of thoughts about this, as did a lot of people there.”
Traditional DPS middle schools currently operate on a schedule of 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; an added hour would keep most students in school to 3:30 p.m..
Hamilton Principal Reina Gutierrez denied that parents were presented with a done deal.
However, Gutierrez said, “The idea is for the school to go to an extended day,” although many issues need to be resolved, such as scheduling and securing teachers’ union support.
“The buy-in is there from myself as a principal, but it’s too early to say it’s carved in stone,” she said. “But we are working toward that end.”
Some parents “fine” with plan for longer day, but raise questions
Tracey Pliskin, president of the Parent Teachers Association at the Hill Campus of Arts & Sciences middle school, said a similar meeting was held for Hill parents Thursday.
“It seems like it’s kind of mandated for all DPS middle schools, and it’s my understanding that it’s not really our choice,” said Pliskin, who did not attend the meeting but has talked with numerous parents who were there. Some, she said, are “fine” with the idea of a longer school day.
— Hill Middle School parent
“I haven’t heard any uproar, other than people thinking it’s a long day for the kids, and how are you going to pay for this, and when are the buses going to run?”
She added,“There’s some feeling of, ‘Stop wasting our time, just humoring us, by letting us go to the meeting.”
Morey Middle School Principal Dori Claunch said she believes all traditional DPS middle schools will be going to a 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule in the fall, and that’s what she told parents at an informational meeting last Thursday.
“The feedback is all positive,” said Claunch. “I have not had one ounce of pushback from any parent. I’ve been really pleased – not surprised. They seem to embrace it very well, actually.”
Merrill Middle School principal Amy Bringedahl will host informational sessions for parents at her school Wednesday and Thursday evenings of this week.
“The kids aren’t getting everything they need in the course of the day and, in our minds, we’re doing a disservice to the kids by not providing them with these additional opportunities,” said Bringedahl.
“In my mind, for my school, if I can get the parents’ support, it will be a done deal.”
DPS to announce proposal for funding added time this week
DPS spokesman Mike Vaughn said the district is “working with our middle schools on a proposal” to give students more instructional time and enrichment opportunities.
“The plans to extend the school day at middle grades are fully consistent with the teachers’ contract,” Vaughn added, “and we will be announcing later this week our proposal for funding the added school time.”
— Mary Seawell, DPS board
Henry Roman, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said the extended school day has been presented as “a pilot for next year, not as a new way of redesigning the schedule.”
“We have repeatedly, several times in the past few weeks, expressed a concern…and requested a session to formalize this in writing, in the form of a memorandum of understanding, to establish a clear process to opt-in to pilots,” he said.
Roman pointed to a section in the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the district that states “The District’s scheduled student school contact day shall not be extended without applying the process of collective bargaining.”
School Board President Mary Seawell said she has not heard many details about the proposal, which she understands is “still in the concept phase.”
“I think it’s a great idea and I would be incredibly supportive of it,” she said, adding, “It would definitely impact budget. It will cost more money. That’s part of what the board would need to see.”
The board is scheduled Thursday to receive its first briefing on the 2012-13 budget.
Charters with longer days say quality more important than time
Some parents say they believe the extended-day plan may be motivated by the success of some of DPS’ high-achieving charter schools, such as the Denver School of Science and Technology and West Denver Prep, which have longer days.
Colorado requires K-12 schools offer a minimum of 360 hours of instruction per semester, according to state Department of Education spokeswoman Janelle Asmus. That’s 720 hours in a typical two-semester school year. DSST and WDP calculated their schedules total 1,248 hours and 1,250 hours of instructional time per year, respectively.
Traditional DPS middle schools offer roughly 1,026 hours of instructional time during the school year; adding an hour a day would increase that to about 1,197.
— Bill Kurtz, DSST
Bill Kurtz, CEO of DSST schools, said their middle school day runs from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Wednesdays, the day ends at 2:45 p.m. to provide teachers’ time for professional development.
“It’s what you do with the time, not necessarily that you have more time,” Kurtz said. “The extra time does not bring better student achievement. It brings the opportunity for better student achievement.”
West Denver Prep’s four middle schools run on varying schedules, determined by the principals. The days range from eight hours and 15 minutes to 8 hours and 45 minutes, with schedules running from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. to 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On Fridays, the schools end the day at 2:30 p.m.
West Denver Prep’s CEO Chris Gibbons voiced a caution similar to that of Kurtz.
“Generally, yes, a longer day is a good strategy because more quality instructional time is what supports more achievement,” Gibbons said.
“I think our longer day has been important to our program, but I think it’s important to place the emphasis on quality. Extending the day, the quality has to be excellent; extending without quality instruction may not have as big an impact.”