State College

State College Area School District ponders longer elementary school days

The State College Area School District administration is looking at ways to increase the quality of education in its elementary schools, and that process could include lengthening the school day, Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said.

The proposal is in the early planning stages, and nothing has come before the school board. O’Donnell said time could be added to the beginning of the day, the end of the day or both, and district leaders are trying to determine the feasibility of such a move.

He said the district will not move forward with any changes without having open discussions with the teachers and parents, saying it won’t be a quick process.

“We’re looking at several different ideas relating to student opportunities, and the length of the school day is part of the conversation,” he said.

State College has the shortest elementary school day among the five public schools districts in Centre County. Its school day is just more than six hours, with Penns Valley at six hours and 30 minutes, Bellefonte and Bald Eagle at six hours and 45 minutes, and Philipsburg-Osceola at more than seven hours.

The state-mandated minimum requirement for elementary-age students is five hours a day and 900 hours per year, according to the state Department of Education’s school code.

Bald Eagle also is studying whether to extend its school day to add time for additional education, Superintendent Jeff Miles said. He said a small increase could open opportunities.

“If you just add 15 minutes a day, you can make up some considerable time,” he said.

O’Donnell also said a slightly longer day would open up opportunities, including time for world languages, which has been a district goal. He said a proposal would not include any cuts from current programs.

O’Donnell was unsure how long feasibility studies would take, but he said there is a possibility that the proposal could be introduced to the board at one of the March meetings.

Any changes would be complex, necessitating the adjustment of staff and transportation schedules, he said.

Several local charter schools also operate with longer days.

Nittany Valley Charter School’s seven-hour day with six hours of classroom instruction allows for more flexibility with snow days, hands-on learning and field trips, CEO Kara Martin said.

“That just offers us more opportunity to do extracurricular things with the kids,” she said, adding that the students react well to the longer days and aren’t too tired at the end.

Elsewhere in State College, Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School and Wonderland Charter School each operate with school days of six hours, 40 minutes.

State College school board Vice President Amber Concepcion, who has young children in the district, said she is aware that the administration is looking into potential changes in the elementary school day, but she doesn’t want to take a stance until the board is presented with a proposal.

The State College Area Education Association also will wait for a proposal before working with the administration, President Holly Jo Warner said.

Warner would like to have discussions with the other teachers in the next week or two to get a sense of what they think. A meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, but a snow day delayed it. She said there was a lot of interest among the teachers to attend the meeting.

A main goal as union president would be to make sure that the teachers still have time for collaboration, planning and other duties outside the classroom setting, she said.

“I would work with the school district to provide time for both teaching time for the kids as well as professional development,” she said.

The staff contracts do not stipulate a fixed amount of time for the school day.