SCASD OKs changes to school day

The State College Area school board voted 8-1 on Monday to move forward with the district’s extended student day proposal after months of discussion and amendments to the plan.

Prior to the vote, the board was presented with an updated version of the proposal that extends the elementary day by 44 minutes. The middle school duration does not change, and the high school day is shortened by six minutes.

Starting with the 2018-19 school year, the elementary start time moves from 8:44 to 8:10 a.m., and the day will end at 3 p.m. instead of 2:50 p.m. Middle and high school students will start at 8:40 a.m. instead of 8:10 a.m., and their days will end at 3:42 p.m. and 3:40 p.m., instead of 3:12 p.m. and 3:16 p.m., respectively.

The current six-hour and six-minute elementary day is one of the shortest in the state, according to Vernon Bock, assistant superintendent of elementary education. The extended elementary day will allow for 24 minutes of core learning, which the district expects will close achievement and opportunity gaps identified during the construction of the proposal.

Secondary changes are steered by results of sleep research conducted nationwide, as well as at Penn State. The research suggests that the later start time will better align with the students’ body clock and should better support physiological, emotional, social and academic development of each student, according to the district.

The elementary proposal includes a fifth special subject in addition to art, music, library and health and physical education. Following the results of a survey sent to parents and faculty, the district is recommending the additional special subject be taught within the STEM curriculum.

The changes will cost the district about $2 million in the first year and about $1.5 million annually. The addition of the fifth special subject requires the district to hire 10 faculty members, which accounts for the largest effect on the budget. The 2016-17 budget projection included $1.4 million, and in the summer of 2016, the district received an increase of about $645,000 in general state education funds, which will be used toward the annual cost of the proposal.

Board member Laurel Zydney cast the only no vote on the proposal.

Prior to implementation next school year, the district will continue to develop the science, technology, engineering and math curriculum and engage with parents in preparation for the change.

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi

As early as elementary school, students who miss just two school days each month are more likely to fall behind in reading, writing and math, even if the absences are excused.