Many Options, But No Decisions for Lengthening YCSD School Days

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The York County School Board reveiwed a series of plans for lengthening the school day at its work session Monday night. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)
The York County School Board reveiwed a series of plans for lengthening the school day at its work session Monday night. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)

School bells in the York County School Division could be ringing at different times next year.

The York County School Board reviewed a series of proposals at its work session Monday night that would extend the length of the school day at the elementary and middle school levels.

The discussion comes after heavy snowfalls forced the school division to miss the equivalent of eight days of class time this school year.

The options laid out by administrators ranged from adding minutes to the length of the school day to overhauling the division’s block scheduling system, to help YCSD meet state requirements for class time.

Virginia requires school divisions to convene for at least 180 days and at least 990 hours. The state also requires middle school core classes and high school credit classes to meet for at least 140 hours per school year.

Division staff prepared a series of options for extending the day for the School Board to consider. A final decision on which, if any, of the plans to adopt could come at the Board’s May meeting.

The three plans for the elementary school level would tack on minutes to the end of the school day — 4, 5, and 6 minutes, respectively — and would bank from 32 extra hours to more than 37.5 hours of extra time during the school year.

On the middle school side, administrators prepared four plans that would add extra time through different means.

The first plan would institute “blended learning,” in which teachers would assign work to students that would be completed outside the classroom. Chief Academic Officer Stephanie Guy said the work would largely be online assignments, and could be completed at home or in organized sessions in school computer labs. YCSD would be able to count that time toward its state requirements.

The second options resembled the elementary plan, and would tack on an extra 4, 8 or 12 minutes to the school day. Doing so would add the equivalent of one to four additional class periods to the school year.

The third plan would institute a seven-period “modified block” schedule, in which some classes would meet for 102 minutes every other day, while others would meet for 51 minutes daily. Guy said the revised schedule would add 20 clock hours per course per year.

The final option would schedule all elective classes at the same time into one 75-minute block. The remaining time would be distributed among the core classes in 95- to 100-minute blocks, adding a total of 7.5 clock hours per course per year.

Guy said the first two plans were the most realistic, and that staff viewed the third and fourth proposals as potential changes in the future.

School Board members generally supported the idea of adding extra time to the school year as a way to avoid the stresses caused by unusually heavy winter weather. This is the second consecutive year in which the division saw heavier-than-expected snowfall.

Their reactions to the plans, however, were mixed.

Board member Cindy Kirschke questioned why additional time at elementary schools had to be at the end of the day, rather than the beginning.

“The buses are, very often, five minutes early arriving [at school],” she said. “Why not start at 8:55 a.m. instead of 9 a.m.”

Board member Page Minter agreed, saying students were more engaged in the morning rather than the afternoon.

Vice Chairman Robert George questioned whether additional minutes would have a positive effect on instructional time.

A recurring concern was the effect an extended school day would have on the division’s tiered bus system.

The school division had examined adjusting school start times as recently as 2013 to provide additional time in the morning for high school students, but were again met with concerns over bus schedules.

Chairman Mark Medford said he did not want to get in a situation in which students regularly missed class time due to their buses arriving late to school.

Board members were also unified in their support of the blended learning option for the next school year, and exploring the third and fourth middle school options in the future.

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