EHartford school officials still working on how to add 300 more instructional hours at O’Connell School
By Steven Crighton and Ed Jacovino
EAST HARTFORD — The 2012-13 school year has been a busy one at Dr. Thomas S. O’Connell Elementary School, but next year proves to be even livelier.
The Board of Education this year unanimously agreed to turn the school into an International Baccalaureate World School in the fall of 2013, and now it will add 300 instructional hours per year as part of a three-year pilot program.
School Superintendent Nathan Quesnel said today the school board will decide how to extend the school year, and those details still are being worked out.
“We’ve entered into a partnership to receive the technical assistance with the National Center on Time and Learning, the fine print is that it’s up to you to figure out how that time will be added,” he said.
Quesnel was in Washington, D.C., on Monday for the announcement, along with the group TIME Collaborative, which stands for Time for Innovation Matters in Education. It includes the Ford Foundation, the National Center on Time and Learning, and the states involved in the project: Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Tennessee.
The idea is that more instructional time helps to close the gap in learning between poorer, urban students and their wealthier, suburban peers. Longer school days also can keep children and teens out of trouble in the afternoon, and give students more time for the arts and other subjects that have been scrapped for math and reading in recent years.
Schools in Meriden and New London also will add 300 hours to their school years as part for the program. Nationwide, it’ll affect nearly 20,000 students in 40 schools. In Connecticut, 3,184 students will have longer school days, of which about 585 attend O’Connell School.
Quesnel said officials already have held two meetings on how to implement extended school days, but it’s still in the early planning phases.
“How we’d plan on it, we hope, is a mix. It’s either going to school earlier or holding the students a little later,” Quesnel said. “We haven’t looked at adding days to the school year, but that could be something we do as well.”
Paying for the extra learning time will be expensive. Funding in the first year would be provided through a mix of state and federal funding, as well as private donations from the Ford Foundation and the National Center on Time and Learning, Quesnel said.
In future years, he said the system may look to use funding it now receives from the state for other programs.
Quesnel said East Hartford’s status as an Alliance District — a designation the state gave to the 30 lowest-performing school systems — as well as the strong relationship between the system’s administrators and its staff, led to the system’s selection for the funding.
“We’re thrilled to be part of this planning process. There’s still many questions to answer as we move forward to start at O’Connell,” Quesnel said. “With our teachers and our administrators, we’re very confident in our ability to do what is best for our kids.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, also attended the announcement in Washington on Monday.
“This idea that we can tolerate different levels of achievement based on geography or race or wealth or home-ownership simply does not make any sense,” Malloy said.
And he said more needs to be done to make sure the extra time is time well spent.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also supported the initiative, saying he hopes to spark a trend of longer school years.
“I think we’re frankly moving as a country far too slow,” he said.
About 1,000 schools have expanded hours in recent years, he said, but there are about 100,000 nationwide. “We’ve been trying to push this as a national movement for a while,” Duncan said.
Mark Waxenberg, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said they support the plan, because they’re going to be part of it.
“We hope this will start a trend and that other policymakers will look to teachers, and the success of collaboration, and include teachers in reforming public education,” Waxenberg said Monday in a statement.