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Five Utica schools could see longer school days and a longer school year by next fall

By GARY LIBERATORE

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Utica City School District officials say if the district is awarded a state grant, they will implement a longer school day and school year at five of the districts' schools.

Utica has applied for a $4,104,000 Extended Learning Time Grant to pay the costs associated with extending the school day by an hour and a half, and the school year by one month, at both of the districts' middle schools and three of its ten elementary schools.

The middle schools are Donovan and J.F.K., and the elementary schools selected to have a longer school day and school year are Kernan, Hughes and Conkling.

The districts' Director of Curriculum Laurie Eccleston says Kernan, Hughes and Conkling were selected based on need.  She says some of the other elementary schools in the district already are benefiting from other grants, "We could only apply for so much, so we had to build in what we could, so we tried to pick those schools that were needy, but didn't have the additional funding or enrichment that some of the other schools do have, so it wasn't arbitrary, we put some thought into it, and this is what we came up with."

The state has set aside $20 million in funding for districts that want to extend students' learning time.

School districts submitting proposals must add at least 25% more time to their academic year beyond their current schedule, by extending the school day, school week, school year, or a combination in selected buildings.



Eccleston supports the extended learning time, especially having kids attend summer classes,  "The research supports that kids come back in the fall at a disadvantage because   they lose that time."

She adds that the additional school time would be used in a variety of ways, "We would focus on the common core, focus on the four content areas, focus on enrichment, creating a richer day, a fuller day for the kids."

Parent Lisa Stevens, who has a first grader at Kernan Elementary says she absolutely hates the idea, "I can't believe they want to extend those days a little bit longer and summer too.  With that, that's the kids free time, that's when they get out and want to enjoy free time, not be in school all the time.  I mean they have to learn, but they need a break too."

Caroline Rodriguez was picking up a child at Kernan Thursday afternoon as well and says the district has been talking about extending the day for years and she is all for it, saying it would help the youngsters, "It would be nice for an hour and a half more."

Kyle Staring was picking up his second grader at Kernan Thursday afternoon and is opposed to the longer school day and year, "From my son's side, his grades and marks are high.  He's awesome, he's even in the STEM program.  He's doing his job and we're doing ours and I just don't think we need it."

Eccleston says the district has not decided whether it will hold a public forum for parents if the district gets the grant, but Staring says the it definitely should,  "Oh definitely, I know it would be voted down."

Eccleston says students would not be able to switch schools to move out of or into a longer school day and year school unless the parents were to move to a new address near the new school, but she says the teachers at those schools would have a choice.

Eccleston says she doesn;t believe many teachers would want to opt out of the longer scholl day and school year, "I don't think so.  I think teachers are anxious.  They would be compensated of course if it (the grant) comes through.  You may have a teacher here and there for whatever reason, childcare commitments, I'm not sure, but they are not mandated to do it.  They are going to be offered the opportunity to do it.  We are hoping we have a good response.  The teachers in those schools would be given the first opportunity, and if we do need additional staff because of staff in that school not wanting to participate, we'll open it up to others to come in."

When asked if she believed some teachers would want to opt out because of the big benefit of having summers off, Eccleston said no, saying teachers are already working through their summers, "I was a teacher myself for many years and teachers in the summer.  You may take a day or two off, but teachers spend a lot of time with professional development in the summer, many days planning for the next school year."

We asked Utica Teachers Association President Cherie Grant to get the union's take on the potential changes, but Grant said she had no comment.

Eccleston says she hopes to hear from the state regarding the grant by January and if awarded, the school board will vote on the changes and her hope is to implement the changes by next fall.

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