, Gloucester, MA

August 20, 2013

Letter: Is school calendar short-changing city students?

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

I have sent the following letter to the School Committee and Superintendent of Schools Safier:

“Back in June, I addressed you regarding my concern for the limited instructional time being offered to the students of Gloucester’s Public Schools. As I said then, the state of Massachusetts has a minimum requirement of 900 hours per school year of direct instructional time to be offered to public school students.

As I said then, according to Section 27.04, ‘No later than the 1997-1998 school year, schools shall ensure that every elementary school student is scheduled to receive a minimum of 900 hours per school year of structured learning time. Time which a student spends at school breakfast and lunch, passing between classes, in homeroom, at recess, in non-directed study periods, receiving school services, and participating in optional school programs shall not count toward meeting the minimum structured learning time requirement for that student.’

Recently, I came across the confirmed school calendar for the upcoming school year that this School Committee approved in March. Given that there are 13 half days scheduled, and accounting for all of the scheduled time spent in non-educational activities, I have discovered that you have scheduled our students to receive 1,038 hours of in-school time.

But 20 minutes per day of homeroom/breakfast time costs 60 hours for the year, minus another 30 minutes of lunch per day costs 86.5 hours, and minus 15 minutes of recess per day costs 45 hours. Another 15 minutes of transitions per day costs 45 hours for the year, and 15 minutes of snack time per day costs another 45.

As a result, I believe you have our students scheduled for 756.5 hours of instructional time, well below the state mandate — and this does not account for BMI testing, fluoride treatments, non-education assemblies, travel time to field trips, holiday gatherings/parties, movie days, fire drills, etc.

The figure of 900 hours is a minimum requirement. The Massachusetts Department of Education, as well as parents, expect you to schedule more time than that to ensure our students are focused on education. Our children deserve no less than the maximum instructional time that you can give them.

It has been my observation that Gloucester’s administration and School Committee have not been focused enough on the amount of time students are spending in the classroom receiving quality instruction from highly trained teachers. The acceptance of the breakfast program during instruction time as well as having 13 half days and this current school calendar are all evidence of that.

My hope is that this School Committee will meet to revise this calendar to ensure our students are getting the maximum amount of scheduled time with their teachers ... Thank you for your time, Lisa O. Fornero.”

I am writing this 10 days since sending the above letter, and I have only received notifications that the email has been received. My basic question is: why does it take me doing this math?

Why has the School Committee (who confirmed this calendar in March), the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, or the principals of each school not realized they have not scheduled enough learning time for our children? Or, if there is some reason why my math is incorrect, why is it taking 10 days for me to receive a response?

This kind of educational malpractice should not be tolerated by the people of Gloucester who entrust this school district with the important task of educating our children. While the administrators are busy planning the implementation of a change to the breakfast program to take away more instructional time to serve breakfast in the classroom, they do not realize they are already not meeting minimum state requirements.

My hope is that this superintendent’s office, this School Committee and all of the school principals will come together and figure out a way to ensure our children are, at the very least, being given the state minimum requirements for direct learning time.