Utica, New York schools may see extended school days beginning this September thanks to a two-year grant first applied for last year.
The district received an Extended Learning Time grant worth more than $4 million that will allow it to extend the school day by 1-1/2 hours for five of the struggling area's 13 schools. Those five are the two middle schools and three of the area's 10 elementary schools. If these schools see improvement over the next two years, the grant could possibly be expanded to all 13 Utica schools.
"We've selected buildings we believe that could use the extra time right now, according to the feedback that we have gotten from various building principals and looking through the data, analyzing the data," said Superintendent Bruce Karam.
Nine New York school districts received the grant, with Utica receiving the second-largest allotment. New York City received more than $7 million.
The rules for the grant state that the extended time is voluntary. The schools need 90% participation by students if they want to keep the grant. They are hoping for 100%.
Karam told Kristine Bellino for WIBX Radio that because schools have just received the grant, there is still a lot of planning to do. Karam did state that he did not plan on hiring new teachers at the moment, but instead will compensate existing personnel for the extra time. It is unclear at this time if the extra hours are mandatory or voluntary for staff.
Area parents expressed anger at hearing about the grant through media outlets such as the radio and news channels before the schools told them. One parent wrote on the WIBX Facebook page:
"As the parent of one of the students affected, I am not at all pleased to find out about this through the media first. A phone call or even a letter directly from the school district would have been nice."
Parents are concerned about their child's extra-curricular activities. In an interview with WIBX Radio, Utica School Board President Christopher Salantino said that the program is voluntary and it is up to the parents whether they want their child to participate.
Karem stated that the district will try to accommodate student athletes, although school needs to come first.
Karam says that the "prime objective is increased student achievement and test scores. This money will help us achieve that, especially during the time of high accountability through the common core and teacher evaluations."
According to a story for WKTV, the Utica Teachers Union released a statement that said they are in support of the grant, and look forward to working with the district to support students in an effort to improve student achievement and test scores.
The district is also the recipient of a $10,000 planning grant.