Longer School Day Pilot Program Goes Live in Denver

Instead of expanding the school day by one hour in all Denver middle schools, a plan that met with opposition from teachers and parents when in was first floated last January, the district is instead trying the longer day as a pilot program limited to seven schools. Although initially only middle schools were considered, the final group will include at least two high schools.

DPS Chief Academic Office Susana Cordoba said that a longer school day experiment was always dependent on acceptance from the teacher and parent community, but that was not the impression formed by those communities when the proposal was first opened to comment at the beginning of this year. Parents who attended the meeting where the proposal was announced said that the impression given by the district representatives was that parents could either “put up or shut up,” and no room for debate was allowed.

Then, several parents told EdNews that it sounded as if schools weren’t being given a choice. Tracey Pliskin, PTA president at the Hill Campus of Arts & Sciences middle school, said, “It seems like it’s kind of mandated for all DPS middle schools.”

That’s not necessarily what ended up happening. In fact, Pliskin said Hill is adding 25 minutes to each school day in the fall – but it is not considered part of the district pilot. “I don’t know if this was a compromise,” she said.

Pliskin said she personally supports the idea of a longer school day at the middle school level. Her kids get out of school at 2:30 p.m., but most after-school programs don’t start until 4 p.m.

Pliskin said that she didn’t dislike the idea itself, but took issue with the financial toll the implementation would take on the school system. Pliskin also noted that the proposal for a longer school day has also drawn vigorous opposition from the teachers union who feel that they will not be adequately compensated for the additional workload.

Denver Classroom Teachers Association, the largest teachers union in Denver, expressed concerns about teachers having more of a say in deciding if their schools would participate in the pilot program, and that before such a decision was reached by the school, that the issue of pay should be settled. The good news, according to the DCTA President Henry Roman, is that most of these problems have already been ironed out — at least in the schools taking part in the pilot, with an additional hourly rate for the extra classroom time to be paid to the teachers already agreed to by the district.

Meanwhile, Roman said some schools, such as Hill, are coming up with hybrid schedules that would add time to their days but not as much as those in the pilot, and details are still being hashed out.

Schools that decided they wanted to be part of the pilot had to submit an application to tap into money to pay for their expanded programs.

The $2.5 million that will be spent on the extended school day pilot comes out of the district’s reserve fund. That approach also raised questions since the reserve is a one-time pot of money.