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Little Rock School District stretching school days

30 minutes added for elementary students, 15 for older kids by Cynthia Howell | May 19, 2023 at 4:39 a.m.
Derek Witcher (far right) greets students at the entrance to Gibbs Magnet Elementary School in Little Rock on the first day of class in this Aug. 22, 2022 file photo. Witcher joined other members of the Little Rock Fire Department to welcome the students to the school in the Little Rock School District. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Colin Murphey)

Elementary school children in the Little Rock School District will start the school day earlier and end it later in the coming 2023-24 school year, the Little Rock School Board decided Thursday.

The board's decision also means school days for middle and high school students will go later into the afternoon.

The elementary day will go from 7:40 a.m. to 2:55 p.m., a change from the current 7:50 a.m. to 2:35 p.m. in place for most schools. The middle and high school class days that generally begin at 8:45 a.m. for students will go 15 minutes longer -- to 4 p.m. -- next year.

The School Board voted 9-0 in support of the extended school days that Superintendent Jermall Wright had said were necessary to provide more time for direct instruction of science and social studies in the elementary grades.

The extension of the high school day is to provide sufficient time for school buses to pick up and drop off elementary students before making second runs for the older students.

The newly approved plan is the result of a compromise negotiated by Wright's administrative team and the district's Personnel Policies Committee for the state-licensed teaching staff.

"We're not happy with everything in here, and I don't think Dr. Wright is happy with everything in here, but we did come to an agreement, and we hope you support it," Teresa Knapp Gordon, a member of the Personnel Policies Committee, told board members in advance of their vote.

To arrive at the proposed agreement with teachers who sought but will not receive additional pay tied to the longer instructional day, the district team said it will remove the 7.5-hour teacher workday language from teacher contracts and any other documents in which it appears.

Earlier, Wright had said that the longer student instructional day could be incorporated into the already required but not uniformly enforced 7.5-hour teacher workday -- without additional compensation to the employees.

Although teachers are not getting additional pay tied directly to the longer student day, they are getting pay increases for next year.

All district teachers are getting raises for the 2023-24 school year as a result of the provisions of the Arkansas LEARNS Act. That law, Act 237 of 2023, provides increases of at least $2,000 to all district teachers and raises the minimum teacher salary of $45,000 in Little Rock to $50,000. The district is also providing an employee retention incentive -- $3,000 paid in November 2022 with another $2,000 to be paid in November 2023.

As a result of the board vote Thursday night, elementary school staff will have to report to work by 7:35 a.m. and leave no earlier than 3:05 p.m. Secondary school staff reporting time will be at 8:35 a.m. and go to at least 4:05 p.m.

The newly approved plan includes provisions for professional development and faculty meetings before and after school. For example, schools may host those training sessions and meetings up to two days per week for no more than one hour after the dismissal time.

Additionally, the district's three assistant superintendents will be responsible for ensuring principals do not exceed the one-hour meeting time limit or the two meetings per week. No meetings of any kind will be held on Fridays before or after school, according to the plan.

Board members approved the plan with relatively little discussion.

Board member Ali Noland had asked earlier this month that administrators work with the Personnel Policies Committee to ensure that faculty were treated fairly in the effort to lengthen the school day.

Board member Greg Adams said he appreciated the fact that an agreement was reached on the joint proposal submitted to the board. He called the agreement "a big deal" for all involved, including students, and "really commendable."

Wright and his staff had reported to the board earlier this month that the state requires science and social studies to be taught, but that it doesn't specify whether the subjects are taught directly or as part of literacy and math instruction.

"Currently, LRSD embeds science and social studies instruction in elementary grades. We do not teach science or social studies directly," the report to the board stated.

The report also added that the district -- which is in the Level 4/directed support category of the state's accountability system -- doesn't have the flexibility to shorten the state-required minutes of instruction for literacy and math. There are also time requirements for lunch, recess and other activities.

"With ... the current length of our elementary school day, there is not sufficient time to address all critical components," district staff reported in asking for a longer school day for elementary pupils.

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