Committee wants to add 20 minutes to high schools’ days

A few school systems around the state are shortening their school year to offset decreases in funding. So far, Fayette wants no part of an abbreviated instructional year.

Instead, Fayette County’s School Calendar/School Day Committee is recommending that the board maintain the 5-day-a-week, 180-day school year.

They are also recommending that high schools follow Sandy Creek’s example and include a 20-minute per day period to accommodate students’ instructional needs.

Assistant Superintendent and committee representative Sam Sweat said the group was not excited about going to a school year that did not include 180 days or having a school week of less than five days, though he did note that a few systems have done so.

Sweat cited examples such as Murray County that increased the school day by 60 minutes and decreased the number of days from 180 to 160.

Peach County is increasing the school day by two hours and decreasing the number of days to 147, Sweat said.

A third example was from Fulton County, where the school day next year will be increased by 10 minutes and the school year decreased to 177 days.

Sweat said that, specific to Fayette, each school day decreased would save $22,401 in fuel and utilities.

“We’re not looking at shortening the calendar. We feel we need to go five days a week and 180 days a year,” Sweat emphasized, adding that the only reason to lengthen the school day would be to meet the needs of students.

Sweat also said the committee recommended waiting to see what the General Assembly does with funding for 2011 before making any decisions about the school day issue.

In terms of meeting the needs of students, another committee recommendation suggested leaving the school days as they are for elementary and middle schools, but increasing the high school day by 20 minutes for enhanced academic learning for issues such as credit recovery, course remediation, graduation requirements and to allow each high school flexibility to determine when those minutes will be scheduled.

Under that scenario, if approved, the school day for high schools would begin at 8:20 a.m. instead of 8:40 a.m. and end at 3:20 p.m. as is currently the case.

The school day for elementary and middle schools would continue to run as they are now, from 7:45 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. and 8:20 a.m. to 3:40 p.m. respectively.

Fayette’s instructional minutes exceed the mandate by 9,000 to 14,000 minutes per year for grades K-5 and 6-8, while instructional minutes in grades 9-12 exceed the mandate by just over 2,000 per year, Superintendent John DeCotis said in a staff letter after the meeting.

Since the hours at the high school level are close to the mandated minimum, the committee recommended increasing the high school day by 20 minutes for instructional focus purposes beginning with the 2010-2011 school year, said DeCotis in a website report to school employees.

Sweat cited the example of Sandy Creek High School that several years ago added a 20-minute period at the end of the day and whose teachers have reported significant positive results from the move.

“Sandy Creek wanted to go to seven periods. The other high schools didn’t. Sandy Creek shaved a few minutes off each period to create the 20 minutes,” Sweat said, adding that the committee did not want to increase the day to seven full periods.

Sweat also said adding 20 minutes in the morning to extend the school day for high schools was preferential to shaving minutes off existing periods which, at some point, could potentially compromise instructional time for regular classroom periods.

DeCotis said the Sandy Creek program has resulted in higher test scores, increased graduation rates and decreased school disruptions.

Fayette County High School has also implemented a similar program and Starr’s Mill is ready to go with its own version of the 20-minute extension, Sweat said.

Board member Janet Smola during the discussion asked a question that could have potential linkage to other school day and school calendar considerations.

“If we increase the school day is that a set-up to decrease the number of days (in the calendar)?” Smola asked.

Sweat said that the only reason to lengthen the high school hours would be for enhanced academic purposes. Sweat also said he would get more input from teachers and students and report back to the board.

The discussion was followed by a few brief comments on transportation by Deputy Superintendent Fred Oliver, who said various issues pertaining to bus routes for elementary, middle and high schools will be reported on at the March meeting.

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