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Thoughts on the Longer School Days

schoolbellIt's official! The Scarsdale Schools schedule will be longer for the 2017-18 school year with 80 minutes more per week at the elementary and middle schools and an additional 75 minutes per week at the high school.

At the elementary school, 16 minutes will be added per day. At the middle school, morning homeroom will be eliminated, each period will be longer and six minutes will be added to the end of the day. School will start at 8:10 am.

At the High School, the first bell will ring at 7:55 am with class beginning at 8 am. The new schedule will add two minutes each to periods 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 and period 5 will have three additional minutes. Homeroom will occur two days per week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays between periods 2 and 3.

SHS PTA President Amy Song had asked that parents and students be included in the conversation about how the extra time would be used but they were not invited to the table this year.

Here are her comments on the new schedule:

The SHS PTA Executive Committee has been very vocal about this issue and feels that the new schedule reflects a lost opportunity for students where writing labs, themed classes or supervised study sessions would have been a more meaningful use of 75 minutes than the accepted plan of adding two minutes to each period. Parents and students feel shut out of a process that immediately and directly affect them, so we will continue to urge the BOE and STA for more collaboration going forward.

More importantly and less mentioned, we must preserve the unique culture at Scarsdale High School where teaching and learning are not only quantified by total classroom minutes, but also through immeasurable acts of instruction that take place outside of class or school. Students are constantly meeting with teachers throughout the school day (including entire lunch periods) and appreciate the free email exchanges at any hour (including weekends which some districts disallow). Some students have even disclosed attending group review sessions in the evenings with teachers willing to accommodate their busy after school schedules. These are just a few examples of how one-on-one, non classroom experiences add instructional value and also allow teachers to get to know students more effectively.

This process also enables our high school teachers to spend inordinate amounts of time writing quality student recommendations for college or summer programs as opposed to some districts authorizing generic form letters (gasp!) to help reduce teachers' personal time commitments.

Scarsdale High School prides itself on boundless, professional education that prioritizes student learning both inside and outside of the classroom resulting in an experience that is closer to that of a private institution. We should be very careful about chipping away this culture because once it is gone, it will unlikely return, and we will end up being very much like any ordinary public high school.

I am hearing that in addition to feeling like this is not a good use of their time, students are disappointed with the inconsistent end times, lack of homeroom for three days (students use homeroom to meet with other study groups, teachers, or deans, get a much needed break and receive important school announcements), and no provision for extended lunch. Parents have similar concerns including the earlier start time. One parent sent me a great link about how studies show that earlier starts correlate to poor productivity and performance for our teenagers.

Student wellness is also very affected by this new schedule which by the way is this year's compact initiative school and district wide!

SHS sophomore and athlete Emmeline Berridge offered the following comment on the revised schedule for next year.

"I think the new schedule is similar to any change in that it will take a while to adjust to it. One of the biggest adjustments being the starting time. Although 5 minutes doesn't seem to make a big difference, 5 minutes to a sleep deprived teenager means a lot. Also, the differing end times based on the day will take getting used to. Being in the school for the past year and a half I have memorized when each period ends, which helps me plan my time during a free or while meeting a teacher. The more complicated schedule is going to be difficult to memorize and I will definitely struggle with that for a while. Another aspect that I'm not fond of is the removal of homeroom on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. For someone who has limited frees like myself, homeroom has always been a quick break in the day where I can rest my brain. Without this time, my productivity and focus will most definitely decrease during the day. With regards to sports, the schedule doesn't really affect much. However, on Fridays, coaches usually make practice at 2pm instead of 3pm because everyone has 7th period free on Friday. Because students lose this free, coaches will not be able to have the earlier practices and sports will get out later on Fridays. Overall, I definitely think this new schedule will do more harm than good with regards to the well being of SHS students. In a community that seems hyper focused on wellness, I'm not sure this is the right move for Scarsdale High School.

In response to the article above, Dr. Thomas Hagerman, Superintendent of the Scarsdale Schools sent us the following:

(1) Amy Song did not raise this issue with the District until late Fall, when this work was well-underway and an established Committee in place, even though the contract with the STA was ratified at the end of the last school year, and instructional time was a known outcome at that time. Moreover, the PTA was not closed out of the process. Amy met with Ken several times on this subject, and I met with the entire PTA Exec Board for several hours to hear/address their concerns. Although the MOU (memorandum of understanding) from collective bargaining stipulated the make-up of the instructional time committees, I have told Amy that I am very open to parent and student participation moving forward.

(2) You claim that: "students use homeroom to meet with other study groups, teachers, or deans, get a much needed break and receive important school announcements"....As a reminder, homeroom is five minutes long, fairly early in the day, from 9:53-9:58. This is not enough productive time for study groups or conferencing. Roll call and announcements, yes.

(3) In terms of inconsistent dismissals, that already happens for our students, depending on their schedules and "frees". All students days begin and end differently, depending on their schedules. This is not a change in practice.

(4) 7th period on Friday is unchanged, so I am unclear why it is characterized as a loss of a free.

Do you have thoughts on the new schedule? Share them in the comments section below.



#8 Sherry Hock 2017-03-18 10:48
I don't understand this defensive and headstrong response of Superintendent Hagerman and the school board members. You have a PTA, students and parents who are more than willing to offer excellent ideas and help you.
It is a shame that a whole year 2017-2018 will be wasted on useless 2 minutes extra per classroom at the expense of the students, not only taking away their homeroom breaks, but also their sleep, rather than collaborate to achieve the best for our children.
We parents are not going to go away Dr. Hagerman. You need to listen to us and change your failing approach.
#7 Parent 2017-03-18 09:31
Disappointed is the only word I can use to describe the new schedule. Was there a parent on any committee before the negotiations began for our children's time. We talk so much about "wellness". How does this factor in? Five minutes makes a big difference in the morning for a teenager. Homeroom is a time my children have always enjoyed. It gives them a chance to get organized and breathe. They do accomplish a lot during homeroom. Amy Song is a champion for our children and our high school. Amy has an excellent understanding of the SHS culture. She understands the teachers and the students. Many of our teachers currently do so much for their students that is not quantified. This will change with the additional 75 minutes a week.
#6 ridiculous 2017-03-17 21:01
When I first read about the new teachers' contract I guess I foolishly believed that the teachers were going to be putting in MORE time for the benefit of our students. Instead it seems like the teachers are working the exact same number of hours they were before, and all that's changed is the parents and students have less time to catch their breathe between classes and picking up and dropping off their children (since Scarsdale doesn't provide bussing for most children) because the start and end times have shifted. I don't see how this change benefits the students at all. Our elementary school has now has a 4 minute window for drop off instead of a 10 minute window?? That is where 30 of those extra minutes came from for the elementary school? What a joke.
#5 Parent 2017-03-16 20:52
I applaud Amy Song who seems to have a better understanding of the culture of the high school that Dr. Hagerman who seems rather dismissive in his response to this article. Amy raises the very real concern that Scarsdale High School could become just like any other high school. That is not what I want for my children. What is Hagerman's goal here? How is this serving anyone?
#4 Regressive move 2017-03-16 20:10
This change was not in keeping with Scarsdale's tradition of progressive education. Why ask the teachers for more classroom teaching time when no one can articulate the educational value?! Teacher classroom time is not the only way that teachers add value to our students' education. Teacher time with individual students, teacher time with other teachers, and teacher time with administrators all add value to our students' education. Student time in collaboration with other students also adds value to their education. I hope Dr. Hagerman will be more transparent with the results of the audit that he now asserts requires more classroom time. The state law, as written, appears to be more flexible as to how school time can be spent that he suggests...
#3 What did he say to PTA concerns? 2017-03-16 19:51
In item (1) of Dr. Hagerman's response above, he says that he met with the PTA Exec Board to hear/address their concerns, but does not say what he told them.

It is important for the superintendent to explain what he told them, not just that he met with them, so that we can see that he reasonably responded to their concerns. In the absence of such an explanation, it is very hard to see his point of view.

I urge anyone who was at that meeting to please explain how Dr. Hagerman addressed the PTA's concerns.
#2 Question for Dr. Hagerman 2017-03-16 19:32
Dr. Hagerman,

The community needs to hear why you think that adding 2 minutes to every class is the best use of this time, and why other seemingly better ideas for this time were rejected.

Your point that homeroom is only 5 minutes and therefore "not enough productive time for study groups or conferencing" only underscores the argument against adding 2 minutes to every class.

I urge you to supplement your response above with a clear explanation for deciding to add 2 minutes to every class over other options.

Without such explanation, it is very hard to see why it was a good decision. Thank you.
#1 cost-benefit? 2017-03-16 17:57
Whatever happened to KISS? This is the most complicated schedule, not to mention starting earlier and removing homeroom, five minutes when our students can take a breath and organize themselves. Free periods are not the same as shifting start times for each class period. And teachers will understandably expect students to be on time. All for an extra 2 minutes of instruction? What am I missing?

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