Some Pasco students to see longer school days

New Port Richey, Florida -- Pasco County parents might have to adjust their after school schedules.

The Department of Education has mandated that three of its elementary schools add an hour of instructional reading after those three schools ranked in the lowest 300 schools with their FCAT scores.

Lacoochee Elementary School, Cox Elementary School and Gulfside Elementary School all scored low.

Lacoochee has struggled in the past. Last year, they received a "D" grade. This year, the school's new principal Latoya Jordan encouraged students and her team of educators worked hard to get a "C" grade.

"We were one point away from a B," said Principal Jordan. "It was difficult especially because we worked so hard to her away from the D. And when we found out about then lowest 300 it's like, 'ok you cross one hurdle just to get to another one.'"

"They went up in ranking by almost 100 points!" said Pasco County Schools Assistant Superintendent Ameila Larson. "They had incredible learning gains but the disappointment is that it is not enough."

Larson and her team of educators worked through the weekend to create a plan to adjust student schedules, bus transportation, and teachers' salaries. They received the mandate from the state on July 10, not giving much time to make some big budget adjustments. The total cost of the mandate is $350,000. Each teacher could earn an extra $3,500 a year.

"We started thinking about ways we would empower these kids," said Larson.

For kindergarten and third graders, they already exceed the state's minimum number of hours so they won't change. Instead, they will just adjust their daily curriculum to add more reading. For 4th and 5th graders, their day is getting longer.

"We decided to add 40 minutes per day. But during those 40 minutes, really help the students learn a new skill that would empower them to learn 24/7."

The district will use funds from the digital classroom budget to purchase tablets for personalized learning, which the students can even take home possibly by December. That is something Principal Jordan is encouraged by for next year's FCAT testing. She believes the extra time for her 4th and 5th graders will be worth it.

"To integrate that with the literacy that's how we create 21st century learners," said Principal Jordan.

Below are some notes from the Pasco County Schools spokeswoman that further explain the hours for their elementary school students.

Because all three elementary schools exceed the required 900 hours of instruction per year for K-3rd grade, it will not be necessary to extend the day but we will be required to add the additional hour of reading instruction in the current schedule.

Students in K-3rd grade will start at the same time they started school last year and will end at the same time as last year. Student in 4th-5th grade must have a minimum of 1080 hours of instruction annually. This is what we currently provide; therefore, we will need to extend the school day for grades 4-5 by approximately 50 minutes. Students in grades 4-5 will start at the same time as last (2013) year but will have a later dismissal time to accommodate the additional time. An additional hour of reading instruction will be added during the current reading block for 4-5.

The district has an opportunity to provide additional computer based instruction (iReady) that will concentrate on reading and math for the additional time at the end of the day. The "good news" is that we can use the Digital Classroom appropriation that we received this year from the legislature to fund the technology and the instructional materials. This will preserve general revenue. At this point, general revenue will only be required to fund the supplement for the required teachers ($100,000+/-) and the transportation costs ($25,000+/-). Preliminarily, staff has estimated the maximum cost to the district will be $350,000. The majority of this will be paid from the Digital Classroom Funds.

The Pasco County School Board will vote tonight, Tuesday, July 29 on this proposal from the district.

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