Beginning in September, students in 40 schools in five states, including Rochester, N.Y., will embark on a school year that will be 300 hours longer than last year — the equivalent of about 50 extra days.
The trial run, if successful and applied statewide, will affect yeshivos by potentially draining the pool of secular studies teachers who work in the morning at public schools, who will now have to stay at their morning jobs later, cutting into the hours they are able to work at yeshivos.
The proposal would also make it easier to get transportation for yeshivah students, who come home later. Under a bill sponsored by state Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) which passed into law for the school year beginning in September, yeshivos are entitled to transportation reimbursements no matter when they dismiss students. If late dismissals are implemented across the state, that law would be the basis for controlling the busing conundrum.
The schools in Rochester, with nearly 11,000 students, are part of a three-year pilot initiative whose goal is to boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level. The other schools involved are in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee.
Rochester schools superintendent Bolgen Vargas has made expanding learning time a priority in his troubled western New York district, where the four-year high-school graduation rate is at what he calls a “painfully unacceptable” 43 percent. Administrators believe part of the reason is that Rochester students spend less time in school than suburban and charter school peers.
The 300 hours will be added to the year by adding 90 minutes to the school day. So instead of spending a little less than six and a half hours in school, students will spend about eight, with the day starting at 8 or 8:15 a.m. and dismissal set for 4 or 4:15 p.m.
Schools were told to “reimagine” the school day in a way that incorporates not only academics and extra help in subjects such as reading, but also the arts and other enrichment they might not have time for now, along with counseling sessions or school and community projects.
The teachers in each school had to approve their school’s participation by an 80-percent majority vote. Teachers won’t necessarily work additional hours, though those who do will be paid for them.