O'Connell Elementary to add 300 hours next year

By Evan Pajer - Staff Writer
East Hartford - posted Tue., Dec. 11, 2012
Board of Education Secretary Bryan Hall (left) with Board of Education Chair Jeffrey Currey, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Gov. Dannel Malloy.
Board of Education Secretary Bryan Hall (left) with Board of Education Chair Jeffrey Currey, Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor and Gov. Dannel Malloy.

On Dec. 3, Gov. Dannel Malloy and representatives from East Hartford's Board of Education met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan in Washington, D.C., to announce a new initiative that will add 300 hours to the 2013-2014 school year for several schools throughout the state. Schools in three districts in the state - Meriden, East Hartford, and New London - were selected to participate.

The initiative, which is funded by the National Center on Time and Learning and the Ford Foundation, aims to improve the amount of time students spend learning during the school day by evaluating how schools spend their time during the school day and adding hours to give students more time to learn, in addition to restoring enrichment programs such as art and music that many schools no longer offer due to restrictions on their curriculum.

Malloy said that some areas in the state have already taken on extended hours, and that the program could later expand to reduce the state's achievement gap. Malloy said that 41 percent of students in the state attend schools that are marked as underperforming. "In many of our low-performing districts, we have children coming into elementary school who have a fifth of the required vocabulary, while other students have four to five times the requirement," Malloy said.

In East Hartford, O'Connell Elementary was picked to be the first school in the district to add hours. Malloy said one of the reasons the school was picked is its use of the International Baccalaureate curriculum, which he said has high academic demands that force the school to cut enrichment activities such as art and music that keep students interested in learning. The school will also modify the way it uses its existing hours in order to get the largest benefit out of the additional 300 hours.

"It's not about more time, it's about more learning," said Board of Education Chair Jeffrey Currey.

O'Connell would not be the first school in the state to extend its hours. Another school in town, Sunset Ridge Academy, extended its hours to allow for a music and theater program that would not fit within the normal school day. Other districts across the state, including Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven, have also decided to voluntarily lengthen their school day in past years by up to 170 hours.

Board of Education Secretary Bryan Hall, whose son attends Sunset Ridge, said the additional hours at Sunset Ridge were a positive change. "He doesn't come home tired, he comes home energetic," Hall said of his son.

Principal Greg Fox said that the school has not yet determined how they will use the additional hours, but that an action plan will be released in March or April of next year. "We're looking at ways that are no-cost, but there will be some things we will need funding for," Fox said. Fox said the school will reach out to the community for ideas. Fox said the program could also be eligible for additional federal and state funding.

The state has also set a goal of making Connecticut a leader in education reform. State Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said Connecticut is ahead of several other states that will participate in the same initiative. "When the governor tells us to get going, we move rapidly. Other states are just getting off the ground," he said. Four other states, including Massachusetts, Colorado, New York and Tennessee will also be given funding to add more hours to their schools under the initiative.

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