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August 27. 2013 10:27PM

Officials: Manchester teachers won't bolt while students await buses

MANCHESTER — The introduction of a new hours-based calendar at city schools that will have teachers teaching longer days will not compromise student safety during arrival and dismissal times, School Superintendent Debra J. Livingston said Tuesday.

"We've been working very diligently to be very creative with personnel in making sure as many adults are with students during both times of the day as possible," Livingston said. That will include Livingston and other central office staff who will assist at arrivals and dismissals at least for the initial weeks of the school year, which starts Sept. 4.

But the head of the principal association assailed the plan, claiming the longer instructional day leaves less time for teachers to monitor elementary and middle school students as they arrive and leave school.

"This creates a major concern for the safety of your children," Association of Manchester Principals President Brendan McCafferty wrote in a statement Tuesday.

"This MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) places the responsibility of dismissing hundreds of students with the building administration," he added. Manchester Education Association President Benjamin F. Dick, however, said "I don't foresee a mass exodus of teachers five minutes after the bell rings."

"I believe in the professionalism of my teachers with regard to students and their safety," Dick said.

The new hours-based calendar expands the instructional day, shortens the number of days in the school year and doubles the number of professional development days for teachers to six.

It is a key feature of the Memorandum of Understanding the school district and Manchester Education Association approved April 8.

The agreement makes no change to the total length of the school day, but alters how teachers and students spend that time, officials explained. Classroom instruction will expand at the expense of the time teachers used to spend at the start and end of each day to prepare for classes or staff a duty station, Dick said.

While this means the window of time when teachers can assist with student arrivals and dismissals will shrink, Livingston said "I do feel strongly that teachers will do the right thing and will be there early as well as later in the afternoon to assist with the children."

In addition, school principals have worked with paraprofessionals to develop flexible schedules so more will be present during dismissal time.

Classroom hours

The agreement increases the number of instructional hours for middle and high school students from 990 to 1050.

Instructional hours for elementary students will increase to 999, Ward 10 School Committee Member John Avard said. The required minimum is 945.

The longer instructional day allows the school district to reduce the number of days students spend in school from 180 to 175. The school year for teachers will decrease from 183 to 181 days, even with the addition of three more professional development days.

"There are a lot of positive things with this new calendar. We know that our last day of school is June 12 ... We know it is going to save us money, at least on busing and other soft savings," Avard said.

He described McCafferty's criticism as "just a typical the-sky-is-falling kind of reaction to change."

Dick described the new schedule as "an opportunity for us to try and move forward."

"We do need to find areas that we might need to tweak," Dick said.

"I don't see anybody waiting too long to figure out if this is viable or not. But I think everybody understands that we recognize if it is completely undoable ... then I think everybody would try to figure out a solution very quickly," Dick said.

If, for instance, teachers find several weeks into the school year that most students are still in class 10 minutes after the end of the school day or large numbers of teachers aren't able to stay late to monitor dismissals "then we need to address it."

Dick said he first learned the Memorandum of Understanding failed to factor in time needed for elementary teachers to assist with dismissals shortly after it had been signed in April.

Dick said the union has been working on solutions since and offered four to five options to the school district. The union and school district's negotiating team signed an agreement in the summer that would have added five and two minutes to the end of the elementary and middle school days respectively, but he said it was rejected by the school board.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com


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