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CHANGES AIMED AT HIGHER ACADEMIC STANDARDS

A longer school day for junior high school students, a better reading curriculum in the elementary school and a different focus on in-school suspension are three new efforts the Cheektowaga Central School District is moving ahead with in an attempt to raise academic standards.

The academic proposals are part of the district's ongoing plan to raise students' academic standards and prepare them for tougher state requirements down the road.

New academic efforts OK'd by the Cheektowaga Central School Board Monday included:

Adding an hour -- or a ninth period -- to the junior high school day this fall.

The time will be used to make sure all seventh-and eighth-graders are caught up on their homework, classroom assignments and daily lessons.

The ninth period will help prevent students from falling behind in school by giving them an extra hour to make up tests, finish overdue homework assignments or complete class work, school officials said.

The students who are caught up with their school work will be dismissed at 2:10 p.m., the time school usually ends.

But the students who owe teachers work or need extra help would stay until the new dismissal time at 3:15 p.m.

The School Board approved the new time schedule by a 6-1 vote. Trustee Leon Regent cast the lone vote against the proposal.

The extended day came about because many district teachers have become concerned about the growing number of junior high students choosing not to complete their homework or class assignments, school officials said.

"We have to do something to try to motivate these kids to do their work," said Principal George Radka. "If this will help instill some form of motivation in them . . . then I think this is a very worthwhile proposition."

School officials think there will be a large number of students forced to stay the extra hour in the beginning months of this new effort, although they expect the numbers to gradually dwindle.

Strengthening the elementary reading program.

School officials want to provide all elementary grade levels with a stronger reading curriculum and are looking for new reading textbooks for the fall that integrate reading, writing, language arts and spelling.

"We want to ensure students are spending more time reading and writing," said Delia Bonenberger, the district's director of learning and technology.

The School Board is expected to decide next month what textbooks to purchase.

Changing the focus of in-school suspension at the high school.

The School Board agreed to change in-school suspension to the "Planning Assistance Center."

Students still will be sent there as a punishment but will get more personal attention from the monitor supervising the center.

The School Board voted 6-1 in favor of this proposal, with Regent voting against the "softening" of in-school suspension.

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