Educators wait to judge Davis' plan for longer school year

January 10, 2001|By KELLY RAUSCH, Staff Writer

As though puberty and algebra aren't big enough problems for middle-school students, how about tacking an extra 30 days on to the school year?

Reports indicate Gov. Gray Davis will propose an extension of the junior-high school year from 180 to 210 days. The proposal would give participating districts $770 extra per student.

While most Imperial Valley educators agree extra class time could benefit students' academic performance, they await further details of the plan before endorsing it.

"More likely than not, it's the governor's way of saying we've done something for the elementaries with class-size reduction and high schools with the exit exam; now we need to do something for middle schools," Imperial County Superintendent of Schools John Anderson said Tuesday.


"I want to be very optimistic," Anderson said. "I don't want to be too critical without more information."

Despite this, Anderson pointed out several hurdles that would need to be crossed before successfully adding six weeks to the school year.

"Teachers say they need summers to recharge their batteries," Anderson said, adding some junior high faculty and staff may say extra money aside, they need the long break.

Not only would districts have to pay teachers more, the extra "wear and tear" on school facilities would raise costs, as well, Anderson said.

One extra cost will be that of air-conditioning entire schools for six extra weeks during the hottest time of the year in Imperial Valley.

Brawley Elementary School District Superintendent Howard Sullivan is concerned about the district's many buses without air conditioning. Some students spend more than 30 minutes on the bus riding home, Sullivan said.

"That's too long to spend on a hot bus," Sullivan said.

Though Davis has budgeted to financially compensate districts, Anderson still thinks "funding could be a problem."

"Can it be done? Absolutely," Anderson said.

"We've done much bigger things with much shorter notice," Anderson said, referring to class-size reduction as one example.

Admitting state educators and administrators, including himself, have very little information about the governor's proposal, Anderson said: "Anything that helps with academic achievement is good."

Sullivan points to the positive effects of summer school programs as proof of extra class time's benefits.

"I think any time you take a group of students and work with them longer … we do see growth," Sullivan said.

"I don't doubt that there would be some growth," he added.

Joe Derma, principal of Calipatria's Bill E. Young Jr. Middle School, agrees the extra class time would help students.

"I think it will give them more opportunity to master state standards in algebra and writing and language arts," Derma said.

"I would support the (governor's) idea if I saw what the expectations are for that extended school time," Derma said.

Derma supports the extended school year so much he'd like to see it include fourth- and fifth-grades, too.

He's not alone. Richard Fragale, Central Union High School District superintendent, thinks every student from kindergartners to high school seniors should spend more days in school.

Fragale described requiring extra time only for middle school students "like putting your finger in the dike."

"If we're going to do it, we should do it for K through 12," Fragale said, pointing out that several other nations have 220-day school years and have benefited from them.

Fragale, a former junior high teacher, doesn't agree with the suggestion that middle schools aren't preparing students for high school and therefore need the extra time.

"You can't make that blanket statement. That would be totally unfair to teachers at that level," Fragale said.

Staff writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.

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