Thursday, December 5, 2013
PORTLAND - The Portland school year could change dramatically under proposed calendar adjustments that include adding an hour to each school day, starting high school an hour later, combining the two post-Christmas breaks into one March break, and shortening the summer break.
Ajna Hasanovic, 17, left, and Ava Zwolinski, 16, both juniors at Portland High School, discuss proposed changes to the school calendar. Zwolinski would like to see the school day start later. Hasanovic said a longer day would eat into time for sports.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer
A BRAND-NEW SCHOOL DAY?
Some of the calendar changes under consideration by Portland Schools officials:
• Add one hour to school day
• Start school year earlier
• One less vacation week
• Shorter summer break
• Later start to high school day
• Evening class options for high school students
HOW SCHEDULES WOULD CHANGE
Currently, Portland’s school year begins the first week after Labor Day and runs until early or mid-June, depending on the number of snow days. Portland has 180 school instruction days, although the state only requires 175 school instruction days – the fourth-lowest in the nation, according to federal data. A school day in Maine can be no shorter than 3 hours, and must average five hours a day over any two consecutive week period. In Portland, high schools run from 8 a.m. to 2:10 p.m.; middle schools from 8:25 a.m. to 2:35 p.m.; and elementary schools from 8:55 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.
According to a draft proposal, the Portland School District is considering the following changes:
In school year 2013-14:
• Go from one-hour early release on Wednesdays from October to May, to a half-day release on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of each month.
• Start the school year earlier, with teacher work days in the last week of August and the first school day on the Tuesday following Labor Day.
In school year 2014-15:
• Extend the school day by one hour each day.
• Start high school later in the morning.
• Shorten summer break in order to minimize lost learning.
• Change vacation schedule to one March break, eliminating the February and April breaks.
• Create full-day professional development time.
• Allow a longer flexible school day for high school, with classes in the day and evening, and students elect when to attend.
• Create district-sponsored camps, after-school care and summer programs as income generators for the district.Source: Portland Public Schools
All of those proposals are on the table as officials look to create more learning time for students and more professional development time for teachers, officials say.
"I think that would be the best thing ever," Portland High School junior Ava Zwolinski, 16, said about starting her school day an hour later. "I'm really tired in the morning and it seems I don't do the best work I could because I'm so exhausted."
Recent research has shown that high school students score higher on tests if their school day starts later. Like many cities, Portland starts its high schools at 8 a.m., because the district staggers start times between older and younger students to accommodate bus schedules.
Other changes being considered include changing the early-release days schedule to create longer periods of time for teacher professional development, creating district-sponsored camps, summer programs and after-school care to provide a source of revenue, and making the first school day for students the Tuesday after Labor Day
District officials are seeking feedback on the plans, with responses to an online survey due by Friday. The Portland school board will hold a workshop on the proposals Feb. 12. A steering committee will finalize the proposal and it will go to the full board on Feb. 26 for a first read.
To see the online survey and list of proposed changes, click here.
Several proposals would increase instruction time, an idea that several parents enthusiastically supported.
"I think it's a great idea," said Rob Welling, a retired Postal Service worker whose daughter is a junior at Deering High School. "I would support year-round school. When I was stationed in Germany, that's how they did it. It would make them more on a par with other countries."
He also liked the idea of starting high school an hour later.
"It is very difficult to get my daughter up in the morning," he said with a laugh. "They do need their sleep and kids just want to stay up late."
Two proposals could begin as early as this fall. One would change a weekly one-hour early release on Wednesdays for teacher development to a half-day release every other Wednesday. The second would start classes on the Tuesday after Labor Day and schedule two teacher workdays during the last week of August.
But the Portland Educators' Association is lukewarm to those ideas, according to its president.
"A number of our teachers work in the tourism industry -- as do our students -- and our tourism season goes through the Labor Day weekend," said Kathleen Casasa. Last fall, the teachers-only workdays were held the Tuesday and Wednesday after Labor Day, the first day of class was Thursday and kindergarteners started school the following Monday.
The draft proposal noted that parents were unhappy about that schedule, calling it disruptive and difficult for families.
Casasa also noted that adding an extra hour to the school day would interfere with after-school sports programs.
Portland High School junior Ajna Hasanovic said a longer day would eat into time for sports, particularly in the winter when it gets dark early.
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