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Needham elementary, middle schools may get extended school days

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  October 28, 2013 02:12 PM

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Needham school officials are hoping to extend younger students' school day by adding 25 minutes of instruction to its elementary schools, and 10 minutes to its middle schools, according to a proposal sent to parents last week.

If approved, Needham would implement the new schedule starting in fall 2014, said Needham Superintendent Daniel Gutekanst on Monday. School Committee officials said that a Proposition 2 ½ override would likely be needed for the initiative.

The additional 25 minutes of time at the elementary level, which translates to 75 extra hours each school year, would create room for expanded courses in physical education, Spanish, the arts, technology, and robotics and engineering.

"In comparison to what students now have available at the elementary level, this proposal is a significant improvement and will expand opportunities in each grade level while keeping time on learning in core academic classes the same," states an October report drafted by a study committee.

However, students will lose a small amount of art class time to make the new schedule workable, the report states.

At the middle school level, an additional 10 minutes of instructional time would expand the existing curriculum, allowing teachers more time to preview lessons and assign work. The cumulative 30 extra hours per year will also make Needham competitive with neighboring communities' schools, according to the report.

Although the proposal does not tack on time to Needham High School's day, officials suggested that the high school do away with half-days for professional development, opting instead for teachers to have collaborative hour-long morning meetings once a week under the principal that would push school to start at 8:35 a.m. on those days.

"There exists a need to provide consistent and common planning time for high school teachers and administrators to work together to maximize teaching and learning at NHS," the report states.

However, the extended school days come with a hefty price tag: hiring 9 to 13 new elementary teachers could cost the district up to $715,000. The district would also have to hire more crossing guards, pay any fees associated with changing the bus schedule, set aside money for teaching assistants and union negotiations, and invest in new curriculum materials and classroom adjustments.

If the School Committee endorses the proposal, the costs would be folded into the school district's budget for the next fiscal year, which is being drafted this fall and winter.

School Committee chairman Joseph Barnes said Monday that the town would likely need an override to pay for the program.

"Those things can’t be rolled into the operating budget, so we recognize that when Dr. Gutekanst comes back with final costs associated with the program, we will have to go with an operational override," Barnes said.

Barnes said that if School Committee members decide to adopt the program -- and he said the board is currently leaning towards it -- he was optimistic that Needham residents would support the extra funding needed.

"I think this is something that would be very appealing to parents," Barnes said. "I think a well-designed override plan would go over well with the citizens."

The School Committee will decide on whether to implement the initiative after Gutekanst proposes his budget in December, which would include a final figure for the time extension program. The superintendent said he was still working on analyzing the total cost.

The next School Committee meeting is slated for Nov. 5 at the Broadmeadow School at 7 p.m.

School officials said that community feedback on the proposal is welcomed. Contact superintendent Daniel Gutekanst at 781-455-0400, x203, or email him at dan_gutekanst@needham.k12.ma.us.

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Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com

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