School Day to be Lengthened Next Year

 Tanumaya Bhowmik / The Spectator

Principal Zhang hosted a School Leadership Team meeting after school on Tuesday April 29 to discuss proposed changes to the schedule for the 2014-2015 school year.
Tanumaya Bhowmik / The Spectator

An audit by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) has determined that Stuyvesant’s number of instructional hours is not in compliance with city regulations. Administrators are considering several different solutions to be enacted next year. No decision has been reached, but it is highly probable that the length of the school day will be extended for the 2014-2015 school year.

In early spring of 2014, the DOE hired private multinational firm Ernst and Young to conduct an audit of Stuyvesant. Since 2011, the DOE has been auditing 30 randomly chosen schools each year to verify that they are in compliance with regulations, which include teacher salary and overtime compensation. The audit still continues, but the only issues Ernst and Young has dis- covered so far relate to Stuyvesant’s daily schedule, which has been in place for nine years. The schedule, consisting of 41- minute periods and 4 minutes of passing time in between period, falls short of time quotas for two different regulations. This is the first time Principal Jie Zhang has experienced a school audit and is the first time she is aware of that Stuyvesant has been audited.

The first noncompliance issue pertains to the amount of instructional time students receive. The DOE requires that students in grades seven through 12 receive 5 1/2 hours of daily instruction, exclusive of lunch and free periods, but inclusive of homeroom periods and passing time between classes. Currently, students who have two or more free periods, along with lunch, have a total of seven or fewer instructional periods in their schedules. With Stuyvesant’s current bell schedule, these students fall short of the 330-minute requirement by 15 minutes. Students falling into this category, primarily freshmen and seniors, make up approximately 44 percent of the student body.

The second issue pertains to the amount of instruction time required for teachers. Before 2005, Stuyvesant operated on a nine period schedule, under which teachers worked six hours and 20 minutes each day. However, a new contract negotiation with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) in 2005 mandated that teachers work six hours and 50 minutes every day. Most schools adjusted to the revised contract by simply adding time to each period, or by requiring teachers to stay after school for additional services, such as Academic Intervention Services (AIS). Stuyvesant instead chose to add an extra period to the schedule, sub- sequently reducing the length of each period to accommodate the change.

The extra period resolved the deficit in working hours for teachers, as they spent more time in the school building. However, because the length of class periods was reduced, teachers were not engaging in sufficient instructional time. Ernst and Young revealed that Stuyvesant was not meeting this separate quota in their audit.

The Student Leadership Team (SLT) and Principal Jie Zhang are considering several solutions in regards to this newfound problem. Zhang’s first priority is to rectify the deficiency in student instruction time. “I don’t think we should shortchange services to [the students]. You are entitled to this many hours of instruction,” Zhang said.

Zhang decided against simply adding the necessary instruction time to the schedule, as doing so would lengthen the school day by an hour. “If we just stretch the periods, it won’t work. We can’t meet the time. The day would go to 4:30, cutting into everything after school. The periods would be 46 minutes long with 5 minutes passing.” Mandating every student to take nine periods of class would not be a plausible solution either, as according to Zhang there is not sufficient space in the school building to accommodate the extra classes.

Zhang also ruled out the possibility of reverting back to a nine period day. “One beauty to [the new system] was that it allowed the kids to have ten period days. I talked to so many people, I don’t think it is a good solution to go back to nine periods,” she said. She hopes to preserve the opportunity for students to take additional electives.
Freshman Maria Fomitchova agrees, “People are already giving up their lunch period to take ten classes a day. If they make a 9 period day, people will be upset be- cause they lose a chance to take a class,” she said.

Another solution that was considered but determined unfeasible is converting free periods to “study halls” so they would be considered a part of the five and a half hours of instructional time. However, this would require a faculty member to be supervising the students in a designated classroom, and Stuyvesant lacks the physical space to do this.

In response to Zhang’s likely extension of the school day, students, parents, and faculty have raised concerns about the effects of this new schedule. “I’m very scared for what it will mean for after-school activities. I think right now the after-school culture here is incredible, and what you guys do outside of our classrooms is amazing,” English teacher Holly Schechter said. “I fear that get- ting started so much later, that you will have less time to do those things that are really terrific, and I think additionally that it would mean you are getting home even later than you usually do and lots of students commute really far.” Many are especially concerned by what the extended school day would mean for students on sports teams “For PSAL sports, a lot of the games don’t start until four, and if they extend the school day …[student-athletes are] going to be skipping a lot of classes,” sophomore Sharon Lin said.

Possible accommodations that could be made for student-athletes next year were considered at the SLT meeting on Tuesday, April 29. These included allowing student-athletes to fill out a form similar to the ZQT-10, allowing them to opt out of both a ninth and tenth period class. It was also suggested that this form could be open to any students who participate in after school activities. Extending the amount of time students are allowed in the building by however long the school day is extended was also proposed.

The SLT and administration are still investigating possible situations in order to decide on a schedule that allows them to add these necessary extra minutes while having the least repercussions on the students and faculty. “I’m doing what I can within the DOE regulations,” Zhang said. The most likely plan for next year’s schedule will include some combination of four suggested adjustments. The first two solutions only account for the deficiency in student instruction
time. “If I only go for the students and forget the teachers for now, that would make the day about twenty minutes longer,” Zhang said.

One idea involved creating a daily twenty-minute homeroom period, which could be used as a study hall or advisory session. Guidance counselor and SLT member Ronnie Parnes suggested that this time could be used as a freshman advisory, a time for juniors to work on college essays, and seniors to look at their financial aid packages, among other things. “We often talk about stress reduction, and building community, so how better to build community than to build community with the people in your home- room?” Parnes said.

Danny Kim / The Spectator

SU President Eddie Zilderbrand and Vice President Keiran Karpen were present at the SLT meeting discussing possible resolutions to the scheduling conflict.
Danny Kim / The Spectator

Some also think a daily homeroom would offer a nice break in the day. “I’d personally rather have it into homeroom because that gives you the option for students to take a breather and talk to their friends,” Student Union president and SLT member Eddie Zilberbrand said.

A second solution is to add a minute to each class period and to passing between each period, ending the school day at 3:47 p.m. Sophomore Samuel Zhang favors this solution over a daily homeroom period.“To me, homeroom periods are rather useless because we don’t do much at all. I would prefer adding an extra minute to our class period,” he said.

Freshman Lowell Weisbord believes it would be better to only add time to the class periods rather than the passing time. “I don’t think adding it to the travel time would make sense, from my understanding, they just need to add 15 or so minutes, so I would say just add two minutes to each period if they have to,” he said.

A third model would add two minutes to each class period and one minute to the transitioning period, ending the school day at 3:57. This would address the is- sue regarding the teachers, but would be adding even more time than is necessary for students. A fourth separates the student and teacher issues and extends the day for students by 17 minutes as suggested in the first plan, but requires teachers to have an eight period day and then stay after school for 30 minutes each day (or 50 minutes for three days a week) to do other activities that would be considered instructional, such as supervising clubs or tutoring.
Some students feel the DOE should consider Stuyvesant’s unique circumstances as an in- tense academic institution. “They [the DOE] are favoring quantity over quality. [ The regulations] should really just be applied to schools that don’t take academics as seriously, and that’s obviously not Stuyvesant. Increasing our school day is not going to be very productive. I don’t know how two extra minutes is going to add anything to my life or my well-being,” sophomore Kristen Chang said.

Points similar to Chang’s were considered when Zhang agreed to pursue a variance, or an exception from the rules for just Stuyvesant. However, she noted at the SLT meeting that success- fully obtaining this variance is highly unlikely, as Stuyvesant is the only school in the city with a ten period day. Additionally, it would call further attention to Stuyvesant’s noncompliance with the rules.

The SLT will further investigate the proposed options in order to come to an agreement on this scheduling conflict at its next meeting, on Tuesday, May 27. “This is a big change, and I think it would be great if we had some time to think through multiple possibilities before doing some- thing that’s going to affect the whole school year,” Parnes said. The final decision will be in the hands of Principal Zhang, and she hopes to finalize the plans by June.

The discussion has currently been placed on hold due to the release of a new UFT contract approved by union delegates on Thursday, May 8. The contract plans to implement an 80-min- ute block of time each Monday for professional development for teachers and a 40-minute block on Tuesdays for teachers to reach out to parents. The contract must be ratified before it is put in place in schools across the city, so Zhang has decided it would be best to halt any further discussion.

“If the teachers don’t ratify the contract, that means we have to stick to what we always had, then actually the discussion will come back,” Zhang said. On the other hand, if the contract is indeed ratified, the individual plans for Stuyvesant will have to be voted on by the faculty.

However, this new contract is unrelated to the five and a half hour instructional requirement for students. “Nevertheless, the two minute addition to your [the students’] periods are not affect- ed by this, so the periods are go- ing to be slightly longer no matter what,” Zhang said.

Though the possibilities for this drastic change raise numerous concerns, many feel that Stuyvesant will be able to adjust to the new schedule.

“Even though there may be bumps in the transition, I think in the end it will turn out alright for everyone,” Assistant Principal of English Eric Grossman said.

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