Friday, May 24th

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.

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