GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

November 5, 2012

Essex school targets time 'disparity' with Manchester

By Marjorie Nesin Staff Writer
Gloucester Daily Times

---- — ESSEX — Officials at Essex Elementary School, seeking to better align its students’ programs and schedules with those at Manchester Memorial Elementary, have reallocated recess times, without cutting minutes, after a district-run study of the two schools last year.

A district-appointed committee investigated the amount of time each elementary school spent on actual learning over the 2011-2012 school year, with the committee finding a “great deal of disparity between the two schools,” Essex Elementary Principal Jennifer Roberts wrote in a November Essexpress school newsletter. And that disparity has sparked the recess time changes,

Pamela Beaudoin, Superintendent for the Manchester Essex Regional School District, which runs both elementary schools, said the schools had previously followed their own time schedules – neither necessarily better than the other, she noted.

“What we knew was we did it differently in both places,” Beaudoin said. “It just wasn’t consistent across the board.”

Beaudoin and other district administrators said the change is no reflection of Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System test scores, which show that, on average 13.4 percent more of Manchester Memorial Elementary’s students scored proficient or higher than Essex Elementary students in each subject and grade.

In fourth grade language arts, 94 percent of students scored proficient or higher, compared to 62 percent of Essex Elementary students. For fourth grade mathematics, 18 percent more Manchester Memorial students scored proficient or higher. For fifth grade mathematics, however, 4 percent more Essex Elementary students scored proficient or higher than at Manchester Memorial.

“There was just a reorganization to make sure we were on the same page,” Beaudoin said, emphasizing that changes were unrelated to test scores.

Parents opposing the change said they feared a future further erosion of recess time, which is important in helping their children relax during the day and develop positive social behaviors.

Parent Teacher Organization members were unavailable or declined to comment Monday. But the district’s director of curriculum, Scott Morrison, said he understands the importance of recess and stretch time.

“We all need to get up and walk around, relax and refocus,” Morrison said. “That applies to all human beings, not just kids.”

Morrison said the reallocation of recess minutes — scheduled without cutting overall time, but simply restructuring the recess schedules — will “equalize” the two elementary schools that feed into the single regional middle school.

“Program-wise they’ll be the same,” Morrison said.

He said the similar scheduling will also put the kids on an equal playing field when they merge at the middle school level in sixth grade and at Manchester Essex Regional Middle/High School.

Morrison said the changes, some of which also occurred at Manchester Memorial Elementary, targeted transition times in an attempt to knock out dead space in the schedule and fill it with enriching or beneficial material for students.

“Transitions are an area that I think all schools struggle,” Morrison said. “The fewer stops and starts you have, the more efficient you can be.”

By grouping all recess time together — to be held just before or after lunch — teachers spend less time wrangling the students in after multiple breaks and recesses, he said.

And, any saved time is a good thing, according to Morrison, who said that recently incorporated state and federal programs have sparked a change in the morning schedule. Morrison said the additional programs demand additional scheduled learning time.

The students at Essex Elementary now settle into their classrooms at 8:15 a.m., allowing teachers to begin instruction by 8:30 a.m., Principal Roberts wrote in the school’s November newsletter.

“This seems small, but with some of the new curriculum teachers are using (“Know Atom Science” and “Write Steps Writing”). it provides the much needed instructional time,” Roberts wrote.

The new scheduling also allows for two-minute breaks in between classes that elementary students — who, unlike older students, do not walk from classroom to classroom to learn different subjects — rarely get. And if a class gets antsy, the teacher can lead a movement break or collect up transition times to use as a recess break at their discretion for the class.

“I notice many classes going out on Fridays, but taking movement breaks throughout the week,” Roberts wrote. “Teachers still have the option to take their classes outside for recess if they feel they need to.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.