BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — Collins Middle School may look a little different next year.
For starters, longtime Principal Mary Manning, who has headed the school for more than 20 years, is retiring and will be replaced by a new, yet-unnamed principal.
More than that, though, Collins could have a longer school day and a revamped academic program starting in September.
Collins has made it through the opening round of a state competition to secure grant funds for a longer school day. The grant calls for adding 300 hours to the school year, or nearly two hours a day. A final proposal will be submitted in the next few weeks.
The tricky part is that the School Department may not know until summer whether it wins the grant, which means parents could be getting a preliminary letter late in the spring laying out different options for the 2014-15 school year and a final letter during the summer with the official plan.
With so much interest in and uncertainty about next school year, the School Department is holding an information session for parents on Wednesday, April 30, at 7 p.m. at the school.
The School Department is also surveying Collins parents on two possible longer-day schedules, one ending at 3:35 p.m. and another at 4 p.m. An earlier proposal to end at 4:20 p.m. drew concern from some parents and has been rejected, according to Superintendent Stephen Russell.
Whatever the ending time, Collins could be increasing its daily schedule from 6 hours and 30 minutes to just over 8 hours.
All of this, of course, could be moot if Collins does not secure a state grant to pay for the additional teacher time, specialists or other costs associated with a longer school day.
Any change in the schedule also would trigger negotiations with the Salem Teachers Union.
Russell and Mayor Kim Driscoll are pushing for longer school days throughout the system. The K-8 Saltonstall School, by its own choice, has a longer day, as does Bentley Elementary School, which added an hour after getting a Level 4 designation from the state for low scores on the state MCAS exams.
They stress that the longer day is not “punishment” for the district’s Level 4 ranking, but adoption of what they say is a program being used by more and more school systems around the country.
“Every new charter school that has been approved by the state includes more time, either to the day or year or both,” said Driscoll. “It’s just a proven commodity for helping kids advance — and that’s not just for kids who are struggling, but for all students.”
Salem Academy Charter School, they note, which has a Level 1 state ranking, has a longer school day. It is an independent public school located in Shetland Park.
Under the tentative plan for Collins, a daily schedule would include 90-minute blocks of math and English, two key areas on state tests.
The average day also would include what school officials say is a key element — a block of time for one teacher to work with a small group of students. It could either be intervention to help struggling students, or acceleration to help students who scored “proficient” on the MCAS to move to “advanced.”
There also would be more time for teachers to plan, as well as enrichment programs in robotics, debate or other areas not normally covered in a school day.
Nathaniel Bowditch, a K-8 school, had applied for the same state grant but was told it was not ready. The school has had several principals in recent years, among other issues.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.