Message to CPS Community: February 28, 2019

February 28, 2019

Dear CPS community -

As you know, last month I shared our proposal to improve school schedules with the Cambridge School Committee and since then we have received additional feedback from educators, families, and out of school time and other community partners about ways to strengthen the proposal.

We have made some adjustments to the proposal to reflect that feedback, the most significant of which is our revised recommendation to extend the school day to 6 hours, 30 mins Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday with an early release every Wednesday at 5 hours, 30 mins. This email includes more detailed information on the rationale, details of the proposal, and next steps.

I will be presenting the proposal to the School Committee on Tuesday, March 5th. Public comment on the proposal is welcomed, and will begin at 6 p.m., after which the School Committee is scheduled to vote on whether to proceed to bargaining with the Cambridge Education Association (CEA), the educator professional organization and labor union.


Why We Need to Improve Time in CPS

 It is our responsibility to regularly review and align our greatest resources - staffing, available time, and staff use of time - in ways that reflect our priorities for improvement. Our District Plan and adopted definition of equity make clear that our priorities are:

  • Rigorous, joyful, and culturally-responsive learning for every student
  • Personalized support for every student
  • Prioritizing the needs of our most vulnerable students to advance equity

Four themes related to elementary & upper school schedules emerged from community surveys, feedback sessions, interviews, working groups, and other research and analyses about elementary & upper school schedules:

  • The 6-hour school day is too short to deliver the comprehensive curriculum that supports our vision of rigorous, joyful, culturally responsive learning experiences. 
  • Current schedules offer insufficient time and flexibility to provide personalized support, especially for students who are furthest behind.
  • More attention must be paid to students’ developmental needs - including recess, play and movement breaks - that are important for academic and social-emotional learning as well as mental and physical health.
  • There is insufficient time for educators to collaborate with their colleagues, partner with families, and collaborate with community-based partners to plan and coordinate high-quality instruction and services.

At the high school, the concerns are more narrow: attending to human and social-emotional needs of students and staff (including sufficient transition time and possible adjustments to student start time to reflect sleep research), strengthening community and relationships; increasing flexibility to better serve students’ academic needs (including more time for students and faculty to meet 1:1), and improving time for faculty collaboration.


Proposal

 In order to better align our resources to our priorities and address the time-based barriers to improvement we need more, better, and differentiated time to serve our students. I also believe we need to move in the direction of enhanced sector-wide collaboration to maximize learning and developmental opportunities for students before-, during-, after-school, particularly for our most vulnerable children and youth.

This will require:

  • Lengthening the school day for elementary and upper schools
  • Improving the capacity of educators to deliver engaging, integrated, inclusive, and tiered instruction in all content areas at all levels
  • Improving time for educators at all levels to collaborate about individual students’ needs and instructional strategies.
  • Improving coordination with the out-of-school time community and other service providers to increase access to quality learning and development opportunities
  • Supporting a school-based design and planning process to ensure schools optimize the organization of staff, students, instruction and services to best meet students’ needs


Feedback from February 5, 2019 presentation of proposal

Since my February 5th presentation to School Committee, which described our action plan to address these requirements, we have heard the following areas of feedback:

  • Some educators, families, and partners have shared their concerns about various impacts of extending the length of the elementary and upper school day by 45 minutes.
  • Upper school feedback that we do not need to extend the recess/lunch block beyond 40 minutes.
  • While there is support for a professional day mid-year, there are other options besides the first day back in January that may be useful to consider.


Elementary and upper school proposal refinements

As a result of the feedback above, I have refined the proposal in three key ways:

  • The school day will be 6 hours, 30 mins Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Early release every Wednesday will be at 5 hours, 30 mins.
  • The required extension of the recess/lunch block will be 45 minutes on full days and only apply to elementary grades.
  • The timing of the additional professional day will be flexible so that it can be scheduled mid-year at a date to-be-determined based on analysis each year with development of the annual school calendar.

With these adjustments to the elementary and upper school schedules, we will gain 90 minutes per week for the student day and at least one hour of weekly professional time for collaboration. This will help enable:

  • Time for engaging, integrated, inclusive & tiered instruction in all content areas
  • Personalized learning block(s) for intervention, enrichment & extension (minimum 50 minutes over the course of the week)
  • Protected time for recess and lunch (45 mins, scheduled as recess, then lunch back-to-back when feasible at Grades 1-5; and an additional recess for JK/K)
  • Recouped time for instruction, lunch, and recess by accounting for transitions 


High school update

We have continued conversations with the high school community - including students and staff. While the conversations to-date do not demonstrate a need for a significantly longer school day for students, but do highlight the opportunities for improvement described above: attending to human and social-emotional needs of students and staff (including sufficient transition time and possible adjustments to student start time to reflect sleep research), strengthening community and relationships; increasing flexibility to better serve students’ academic needs (including more time for students and faculty to meet 1:1), and improving time for faculty collaboration.

The CRLS working group continues explore options based on the feedback collected from staff and students. High school staff should expect an update in the coming days on that group’s work and findings.


Professional time and compensation model

Two aspects of the proposal - the final amount and distribution of professional time outside of the school day, as well as the compensation model for education - will be negotiated during the bargaining process. The School Committee must vote to authorize the Superintendent to proceed to the bargaining process.


 Update on start/end times

We will not make a recommendation for start/end times until the final length of the school day is known after negotiations. If and when final decisions to extend the school day are approved, we will gather additional feedback from the CPS community about a further refined set of start/end times before making a proposal to the School Committee for their discussion and approval. Shifting to a 6 hour, 30 minute school day provides additional flexibility for more options for potential start/end times. I will provide an update on those options as part of my presentation next week.


Process & Next Steps

On March 5th, I will ask the School Committee to vote in support of the recommended proposal. With School Committee support, CPS would then engage in bargaining to develop a tentative agreement. That tentative agreement must then be ratified by a vote of CEA members. Then, the School Committee would need to ratify a final agreement and adopt the plan for moving forward. School schedules would not change until September 2020. The entire 2019-2020 school year would be devoted to planning and transition. Please see the full timeline below. You can find more details about our plan on the website, and we will share more details during our presentation to the School Committee.

Thank you for reading this message. I am excited about this proposal and the potential opportunities for continuous improvement to serve every CPS student’s needs.

Sincerely,

Kenneth N. Salim, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

Timeline

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