Rochester schools Superintendent Bolgen Vargas has made longer school days a cornerstone of his strategy to improve student performance. Three schools served as pilot programs this year, and Vargas plans to have a total of 10 schools with longer days beginning this fall.
But some parents, teachers, and school board members aren't sold on the plan. And there was confusion about the concept at a recent public forum to meet the non-incumbent candidates vying for a seat on the Rochester school board. The biggest concern: What will students do during the added time they’re in school?
Vargas frequently says city students receive less instruction time than any other students in the area, even though they have the highest needs. The administration has created a graphic to illustrate the point. (See below.)
City elementary students, for example, get 762 fewer hours of instruction per year than Rochester-area charter school students, according to the district's analysis. And city high school students receive 242 fewer hours of instruction per year than the charter school students, the analysis says.
Greece, Brighton, and city students typically provide six hours of instruction per day, but Rochester Career Academy Charter School provides 7 hours and 15 minutes.
Longer school days and school years are often cited as reasons why some charter students are doing better academically than their city peers. Quality of instruction, parent engagement, and a highly structured learning environment are factors, too.
Longer days in city schools have been described more like surround-care programs, where students have more time for instruction, as well as more time for extracurricular activities.
Vargas has done a good job explaining the need for longer school days, but he may want to devote more time to the what and how, which aren't as clear.