The total $2.6 million state grant would mean increasing the number of hours for elementary and intermediate school students by increasing either the length of the school day or the number of days in the school year. The district has been named one of nine recipients of the state grant, the winners of which were supposed to be announced in January, with the extended time going into effect this September.
However, since the district was not notified that it had received the grant until July, Southampton opted to accept $10,000 of the grant to study the impacts on the students for one year before making a decision on whether to accept a grant of approximately $2 million to implement the changes for two years starting September 2015.
At a Board of Education meeting on Tuesday night, Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina said that $2 million is too high a figure to just ignore, and that the district is asking for patience and input from parents as it collects facts. The district, he said, will have community forums as the study moves along and it works to come up with a plan—which could be to decline the grant—that will be best for student access and closing the achievement gap.
“The district has decided that the prospect of … [enhancing] the education in our district is something that cannot be overlooked and has to be investigated by the district,” Dr. Farina said. “So our intent is to take the next year, or six months, however long it takes, to investigate the viability of this grant for this district. Our intent is to do that, and should the community, administration and teaching staff in this district find this to be a positive benefit for the Southampton School District, we would implement it in September 2015, only after we get complete communication and a lot of studying of what this would do to our student program.”
While the district is still in the early phases of its evaluation, some parents are not happy about the idea of expanding the school day. One parent, Laurie Tutt, said she is vehemently opposed to her children spending more time in school, and said the district is not being transparent in what it is trying to do.
“This sounds like a science experiment that you are going to be doing on our children,” she said. “If it goes forward, we will be pulling our children out of the district.”
Dr. Farina said there are several ways the grant could be implemented. He said students would be spending more time in school, but that they could be doing different things, like learning new technology through projects, or doing individual work to eliminate or reduce the need for homework. “The extended day would not be the students doing the same things they are doing now for longer periods of time,” he said. “It is about doing things differently.”
Over the next few weeks the district will be forming a committee of parents, teachers, administrators and students to discuss the grant proposal, form a plan and gather ideas on how the extra time could be utilized.
While the district gets organized, board members and administrators asked for patience from the community, saying the district will be better equipped to handle questions in a few weeks. “We are asking that people wait until we get the facts and have a plan,” Board President Heather McCallion said. “Otherwise, people will just be spinning their wheels.”