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SHS School Week to Be 75 Minutes Longer: What To Do With That Time?

clockThough there's an active initiative underway to decrease student stress and improve wellness, the Scarsdale High School PTA leadership is concerned that a new policy will undermine that effort. In contract negotiations with teachers last year, it was agreed that 75 minutes a week of teaching time would be added to the high school schedule and 80 minutes a week of teaching time would be added to the middle school schedule. This came as a surprise to parents, some who did not want to see an extended school day add to their children's stress levels.

We asked STA President David Wixted for details about the additional time last fall, but he let us know that discussing this issue would breach "the confidentiality and good faith bargaining that governs our negotiations with the BOE." He continued, "I can only say that the additional instructional time is one part of a comprehensive agreement the STA reached with the BOE and that was ratified by our membership."

It seems that parents were turned down in their effort to collaborate on formulating innovative and productive ways to use this 75 minutes of weekly time. At the meeting of the Scarsdale Board of Education on February 13, members of the SHS PTA Executive Committee expressed their frustration with a decision that will add two minutes of teaching time to every class period in the high school schedule rather than use the time for individual meetings with teachers, small group learning experiences or activities that could improve student wellness. They called the new schedule "a default plan" that has been put in place until "something better comes along."

In remarks before the board on Monday night, SHS PTA President Amy Song suggested several ideas for the use of the time. She said, "Many students would appreciate a mandatory, structured period where they could sign up in advance for specific instruction. Another thought could be for students to select a class based on a teacher's expertise that incorporated a universal theme, such as wellness or global citizenship. The ideas are plentiful when you apply "classroom instructional time" in an innovative manner with students spending one-on-one time with teachers; this is what we hear students say they value most and is the hallmark of a Scarsdale High School education."

With the stopwatch running indicating that Song had exceeded her allotted three minutes, Suzanne Glaser read the second half of the PTA statement. She expressed the PTA's disappointment that they were not permitted to confer on the new policy. She said, "The PTA Executive Committee has attempted on numerous occasions to reach out to you in writing and also requested a meeting with your entire board or a subset to understand the process and express our thoughts. We remain disappointed by the lack of response, openness and collaboration from the BOE, as students and parents have not been directly represented in any talks regarding the implementation of this mandate. Please reconsider this culture."

Glaser urged the administration and board to work with all stakeholders and consider the ramifications of collective bargaining agreements on the students and the community.

Eileen Donovan who is a member of the SHS Wellness Committee said, "There is a high level of rigor at the high school.... We don't need more rigor." She called the new schedule "a regressive plan to keep kids in chairs for 75 more minutes," and said that the kids were, "pawns in a negotiation between the administration and teachers." She said that kids could benefit from time to foster relationships with their teachers and for small groups that form a more inclusive environment." She asked that the high school be given the power to come up with a new plan.

See the full remarks from the PTA Executive Committee below or watch them here:

I am the current Scarsdale HS PTA President and speaking on behalf of our Executive Committee.
Everyone in this room is an advocate for the Scarsdale HS student. However, there is a conversation taking place among adults who are not prioritizing our children. At last spring's contract negotiations, members of the BOE and STA agreed to extend the High School week by adding 75 minutes of more classroom instruction. These seventy-five generous minutes of potentially meaningful, impactful learning are now close to being relegated to the agreement's default plan of adding two more minutes to each class throughout the day. This last resort option appears to be the only proposal that both parties can agree on to satisfy the requirement for "additional classroom time," a term that was not properly defined thereby limiting any useful application. In other words, the policy prohibits any creative solutions from being considered due to the narrow scope that teaching and learning cannot take place outside of a scheduled class. How can two more minutes per class be more acceptable or meaningful than a full period of supervised, expertise-based individual or small group study sessions where both teachers and students are held accountable? While we do not dispute the BOE and STA's efforts for more valuable instruction, it seems that there was no thoughtful review process on HOW this mandate should be implemented at the High School since no administrators or parents were consulted during these discussions. In fact, many district and school administrators, teachers, and even some Board of Ed members admit that the default plan is far from ideal, calling it a "placeholder" until something better comes along. Unfortunately for our kids, "something better" is not coming this year due to a lack of collaboration and shared input from all parties involved.

In fairness to the scheduling committee, finding a place for 75 minutes in the High School day is no easy task. The schedule is complex and any changes to it should not only add value but also preserve the most important existing benefits. The ability to meet 98% of students' course requests, the flexibility to change class levels mid year, and the built-in time for programs like Civ Ed and various grade-level seminars are just a few of the longstanding advantages offered to our students.

Given the multitude of course offerings and diverse student needs, adding 75 minutes to a new or existing subject period would greatly disservice those students who, for instance, may not need more time in history class but would prefer the extra instruction in math or science. How can anyone decide where additional time should be allocated without student agency or self-determination? Our high school students are much more independent, capable, and self-aware than they are being credited for and would benefit from enhanced learning beyond the 49-minute classroom period.

For example, many students would appreciate a mandatory, structured period where they could sign up in advance for specific instruction. Another thought could be for students to select a class based on a teacher's expertise that incorporated a universal theme, such as wellness or global citizenship. The ideas are plentiful when you apply "classroom instructional time" in an innovative manner with students spending one-on-one time with teachers; this is what we hear students say they value most and is the hallmark of a Scarsdale High School education.

As you know, our PTA Executive Committee has attempted on numerous occasions to reach out to you in writing and also requested a meeting with your entire board or a subset to understand the process and express our thoughts. We remain disappointed by the lack of response, openness and collaboration from the BOE, as students and parents have not been directly represented in any talks regarding the implementation of this mandate. Please reconsider this culture. While we have no interest or position to be involved with collective bargaining, the fact remains that any change to the daily school schedule that immediately affects our students and families should have allowed us the opportunity to voice our concerns upfront on how the agreement could be put into effect.

It wasn't so long ago, but do you remember our debates on callback kindergarten? Or the many curricular conversations we shared about introducing Spanish to the elementary schools? The most successful and long-standing policies take place when all the stakeholders work together to listen and learn from each other.

While we acknowledge that we cannot please everyone, we all have the best intentions for meaningful education by putting our students first and then seeking the best outcome. Sadly, our students now stand to pay the price for this misapplication of terms and have just lost 75 minutes per week outside of school to do homework, participate in after-school activities, meet with teachers, work in group projects, catch up on sleep or spend time with family. We owe it to these kids to make the best use of this time and not have them serve as placeholders in order to satisfy YOUR agreement.

For this reason, we urge the BOE and Dr. Hagerman to encourage all of us -- the BOE, STA, HS Administration and PTA -- to work together to support student learning that is purposeful and worthy of a longer school day. It may take time to come up with an optimal solution, but a collaborative approach will help find quality instruction under the parameters of this agreement, as well as represent how our community includes all participants when making well-informed, important decisions for the High School.
We know you as our fellow neighbors, friends, and parents, but now count on you as our trusted elected leaders to show us your commitment to our high school students, first and foremost.

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