Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's About Time

The ringing of afternoon bells signals the end of another day in Needham’s classrooms and reminds me that our time with students is precious and limited. 

In our schools and classrooms the pace is steady, the stakes are high, and the enthusiasm is palpable as folks work to ensure the Needham experience is the best it can be. Clearly, teachers, administrators, students, parents, School Committee members, and others are devoted to their schools and committed to continuous growth and improvement. 

In Needham, there is no shortage of ideas to develop and grow; there is no paucity of talent and enthusiasm.  But there is a lack of time—the time required to address our most pressing learning needs and goals.

A 2012 survey conducted by MetLife  confirms what many of us in Needham know well:  teachers and principals work hard to support students, but they face immense challenges managing and sustaining learning, particularly in an environment of high expectations, accountability, technology innovation, and curriculum changes.  The MetLife data revealed that more than half of the educators surveyed believed that: “the instructional leadership responsibilities of implementing the Common Core, creating and maintaining an academically rigorous learning environment, and evaluating teacher effectiveness” are critical issues ahead.

Recent Needham Public Schools program reviews have all recommended that the District consider adopting and implementing various curriculum, instruction, and assessment improvements.  The K-8 Science Report (2007) suggests increased science instruction at the elementary and middle school levels; the Fine and Performing Arts Report (2009) recommends more creative learning opportunities; the ELA Report (2010) outlines the need for greater articulation and collaboration between teachers and schools; and the World Languages Report (2012) urges the reintroduction of foreign language instruction at the elementary level.  The common and consistent theme in these reports is clear:  If Needham’s young people are to continue to benefit from a superb education and be appropriately prepared for an interconnected and globalized society, certain programmatic and instructional needs must be addressed.

There are several factors that suggest now is the time to extend learning in the Needham Public Schools:

Programmatic Needs
•  The introduction of the Common Core curriculum and the continued refinement of all curriculum areas, PreK-12 will require time and attention.
•  New and expanded elementary and middle school programming:  foreign language, science, social studies, health, and/or fine and performing arts could be offered or increased with the addition of instructional time.
•  The introduction of interdisciplinary learning and opportunities at Needham High School involves curriculum innovation and time for planning.

Instructional Needs
•  Struggling students should have more time to achieve individualized learning goals; advanced students seeking additional academic challenge need increased time to take advantage of enhanced instruction.
•  The introduction of a robust Response to Intervention (RtI) program that assists teachers and principals to address student needs within the classroom is critical.
•  The implementation of the new educator supervision and evaluation model assumes ongoing and regularly scheduled conversations, collaboration, and planning for all Needham staff.
•  Increasing demands and expectations on teachers makes it difficult to plan and work together in a coherent way within the existing school day structure.

Of course, it is also time to expand our Kindergarten program to a full-day instructional model.  Unfortunately, we currently lack the space in our elementary schools to expand the existing model. The upcoming and planned renovations at Hillside and Mitchell, however, will incorporate sufficient classroom space to make a high quality and full-day Kindergarten program a reality for Needham’s children. 

These programmatic and instructional needs can only be addressed if we consider adding more time to the day and if we reconsider how we use the time we already have for elementary programming, professional development, and staff meetings.  Unlike many of its neighbors, Needham Public Schools provide less instructional time in the classroom for elementary and middle school students.  In fact, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) identify Pollard and High Rock as elementary schools and not secondary schools because of insufficient instructional time on learning.

Several school administrators and teachers recently initiated an informal conversation about the possibility of extending the school day for students and providing increased opportunities for programmatic and instructional needs. The discussions have focused on a recognition that if we wish to expand learning opportunities for students and provide additional time for teachers to collaborate we would have to increase the existing six hour student instructional day by an amount that is both cost effective (i.e., keeping transportation and programming affordable) and does not significantly impact or disrupt family lives (i.e., mindful of daycare or after school activities).

Based on these early conversations and knowing that a high quality, 21st Century educational program for Needham’s young people is an imperative, I believe that the Needham Public Schools experience for all students can be enriched if we a) expand the elementary and middle school instructional day by a modest amount, b) introduce new and/or expanded programming at the elementary level, and c) ensure that teachers and staff at all levels have sufficient time during and after school hours to work together to improve student learning. 

More time on learning in and of itself will not address all of the many tasks and challenges ahead for the Needham Schools nor is more time in the classroom a guarantee of accelerated student learning or achievement.  But there exists an opportunity to pursue extended learning in Needham—for students and teachers—that I believe will support educational innovation and empower young people and the adults who serve them.

I propose that School Committee members, teacher leaders, and administrators discuss the possibility of extending the day for Needham’s students to address the specific programmatic and instructional needs highlighted.  

It’s the right thing to do for Needham’s students, and it’s about time to have a formal conversation about extending the day.

Parents:  Take a quick survey and tell me what you think about more time:

Time and Learning Survey 


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  2. How much additional time each day?

    1. That still needs to be determined, but we are thinking about ten minutes at the middle school (which will net about 30 additional hours over the course of a year) and 25 minutes at the elementary level (75 hours).

  3. Do you think this will decrease the amount of homework? And has any issue regarding homework (mostly in the 6-12 grades)been discussed recently?

    1. Well, homework is the next frontier! We will continue to discuss what kind of learning experiences, including homework, are most beneficial for our students.