MANCHESTER — A week before school starts, district administrators are scrambling to explain to parents changes to the length of the school day and to make sure there is enough staff to ensure the safety of students as they board buses at the end of the day.
Principals have expressed concerns, since teachers won't be required to stay after school long enough to supervise the boarding of buses, as they have in the past.
Superintendent Debra Livingston told the school board Monday that she was hopeful that she and the principals could work out a plan to use paraprofessionals, which could require additional funding.
"We want to make sure we have as many adults out there to assist kids onto buses as possible. My understanding is many principals have already started meeting with paraprofessionals about this. We're also discussing the possibility of flex time (with the paraprofessionals)," she said.
The elementary schools will be starting 15 minutes earlier than last year, at 8:20 a.m., and school will get out at 2:50 p.m., rather than 2:35 p.m. Public middle schools will start at the same time as last year — 7:40 a.m. — but class will go 20 minutes longer with dismissal at 2:20 p.m.
The high school day will remain the same, but the lunch period will only be 24 minutes long, rather than 48 minutes. Instruction begins at 7:45 a.m.. Classes are dismissed at 2:42 p.m.
The school board enacted the changes this past school year in order to shorten the school calendar to 175 days, while increasing daily instruction time. Administrators are sending out notices of the changes and the superintendent will appear on Manchester Public Television, as well.
30-plus in many classes
District administrators are estimating that 11 high school classes will have more than 30 students, while nearly 100 middle school classes will exceed the state standard.
The preliminary numbers were presented to the Board of School Committee Monday, as administrators busily prepare for the first day of school, Wednesday, Sept. 4.
Superintendent Livingston stressed that she anticipated that class sizes would fluctuate in the early weeks of the school year, as is typically the case due to last-minute enrollments and withdrawals.
The estimate for the high school class sizes, if they hold, would represent a considerable improvement over last fall, when dozens of classes had more than 30 students, the limit set by the state Department of Education. The large high school classes last year led to an outcry from the sending towns of Hooksett and Candia, and Hooksett is now in the process of trying to find alternative high schools for its students.
Still, Livingston stressed the numbers were preliminary.
"I would ask this board to view this with some caution. There will be shifts in the numbers. We may see some classes drop and others rise ... At this point we don't know how many students have moved and not let us know. It is going to take a week or two for this to settle out."
The tally presented by the administration shows there are two classes in the elementary schools that are over the 30-student mark, at Jewett Street Elementary.
In the high schools, Memorial has six classes over the limit and Central has five. West has none.
At McLaughlin Middle School, there are 42 classes over the limit, according to the tally. At Parkside, there are 37. and at Soutshide there are 18. At Hillside, only two classes have more than 30 students. A similar number of middle school classes were found to be over the limit during the past school year.
During the last school year, the school board passed a policy that required principals to cap enrollment in high school classes at 30; it's not clear what effect this had on the class size estimates or what implications it would have for the larger classes.
Several board members lauded Livingston for presenting the figures, which past administrations have resisted providing due to the fluid nature of the early days of the school year.
Mayor Ted Gatsas asked Livingston what kind of additional staffing she would need to bring the class sizes down. She replied that she would present a preliminary report during the first week of school.