Colorado

DPS mulls longer day for middle schools

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.

“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?”
— 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.”

“It would definitely impact budget. It will cost more money. That’s part of what the board would need to see.”
— 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.

“It’s what you do with the time, not necessarily that you have more time.”
— 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.”

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”