The value of expanded learning time has been a hot topic of conversation over recent months in our community, with some schools considering expanding their calendar and the School Committee considering a change to the calendar at Saltonstall School, a long-standing extended-year school. As a parent with kids soon to enter the Salem public schools, I am deeply concerned about the state of the city’s school system — particularly the three Salem schools that have received the lowest possible rating from the state. As an educator, I strongly believe that there is much more we can and should do to improve our schools. Expanded time, when used wisely, holds the promise of closing the educational achievement gap and making school a richer, more engaging experience for all students. I know because I have seen the benefits of more time firsthand in the schools where I’ve worked.
Additional time can be a key driver in increasing student achievement. From 2009 to 2010, I was the principal at the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown. In 2005, the Edwards was on the verge of being shut down, until the school added significantly more time to its calendar. By 2009, it had become one of the highest-performing middle schools in the city of Boston, and it continues to be. I am currently the principal of the Roger Clap Innovation School, which was created and opened in 2011 as a way to better serve the students of the Clap Elementary, a school that closed, in part, due to low and stagnant student performance. Like the Edwards, we have added significantly more time to the calendar, and in our first year of existence, our third- through fifth-graders showed the highest improvement on the mathematics MCAS of all Boston public schools.
More time also gives school leaders more options to effectively use data to drive instruction. Through data, we are able to see specific areas where students need to be pushed or supported and then design targeted academic interventions within the additional time to help them. At the Roger Clap Innovation School, we’ve lengthened the school day by 30 minutes. With this extra time, we use data to deliver instruction aimed at pushing every student, regardless of their current performance level, to that next level. For students who are struggling, this means helping them catch up with their letter names and sounds. For students who are high-achievers, it means keeping them engaged with material that challenges them, like debate class or having student council members writing blog posts.