Longer school days get a hearing Tuesday, with parents urged to appear, comment
The question of longer school days gets a presentation Tuesday by Superintendent Jeffrey Young, as well as an chance for public comment. As an issue that’s been debated for years and can affect families nearly as much as changes in the recent Innovation Agenda, officials and parents attending Tuesday will likely see an extended “school day” of their own.
The factor that may keep the meeting within reasonable hours: The School Committee itself won’t be able to talk about the issues at length.
“We are still in negotiations and it has been advised to us that talking about this publicly, including our own feelings about it, may impact bargaining,” said committee member Marc McGovern, referring to contract negotiations with teachers and other district educators.
For the same reason, McGovern said, “For those who want specifics regarding what the time is going to be used for, the superintendent is not in a position to give any. One of the challenges is that there needs to be an extensive process with teachers to determine how best to use the time.”
Members of the Cambridge Education Association voted 380-354 in June against a proposed contract that included a longer school day that would have started next school year with classes starting at 7:25 a.m. at the earliest and ending at 3:30 p.m. at the latest. The surprise rejection brought teachers into classrooms for a second year without a contract, which is unprecedented in recent history.
People following committee action since the spring might think they know the intended use for the longer school day: world language programs.
At a March meeting that addressed the district’s failure to introduce a promised world languages program on time, Young laid out how each minute of the school days is used, saying, “We already do not have enough time to do what we need to do. How does world language fit into this?”
The notion Cambridge has “the shortest school day in the state” was debunked shortly afterward by parent Emily Dexter, and there are already two schools in the district that, thanks to Department of Education Expanded Learning Time grants, do have a longer school day: the Fletcher Maynard Academy and Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. elementary schools.
Fletcher Maynard has an eight-hour school day – two hours longer than typical – that is used to add instruction time in everything from core content areas such as language arts, mathematics, social studies and science to elective-style courses such as drama, dance, art and music. The King School is operating under the grant for the seventh year, adding two hours for every school day but Wednesdays that helps emphasize such things as collaboration and field trips. “There is tremendous support for this program and we have received a great deal of local and national acclaim for our ELT design,” officials say on the school website.
Despite the attention on world languages shortly before the contract vote, time added to school days throughout the district would not necessarily be used for that, and Young won’t be able specify, McGovern warned. It’s something the district and CEA have to address.
“If the superintendent comes out and says, ‘The time will be used for X and Y, then he will be circumventing that process. The teachers and educators need to be involved in this planning, and so it is only fair to them that the administration not take a position prior to that process taking place,” McGovern said.
Still, a motion made by committee member Patty Nolan and passed unanimously at a September meeting asked the district’s legal counsel to find a legal way for the community to engage in discussion on a longer school day. “The motion is meant to engage the community,” Nolan said, and to “steer clear of any collective bargaining implications as opposed to the policy-making requirements for any potential change, which is clearly a policy issue.”
Vice chairman Fred Fantini also urged members of the community to come to Tuesday’s meeting to speak during public comment.
The committee meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Dr. Henrietta S. Attles Meeting Room at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, 459 Broadway.
This story was updated Sept. 28, 2013, to correct that Dexter is not running for office.