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Hamburg elementary school students due for additional learning time

Hamburg Central High School students will be heading to class 20 minutes earlier next year, but they’ll be getting out a half-hour earlier.

While that might be cause for some grumbling in the morning, they won’t be alone. Students in the middle school also will start earlier, while elementary students will come to school 10 minutes later than they do this year.

The most dramatic change in the school day will come at the elementary level, where the district will add up to 25 minutes to the instructional day.

“On the face of it, perhaps it doesn’t sound like a lot,” Superintendent Michael R. Cornell said. “But when you look at it over the course of a school year, it’s probably two weeks of added learning time in the school year.”

Add that up over the six years that children spend in elementary school, and that’s 12 weeks more learning time before they get to sixth grade. In these days of tougher learning standards and increased focus on results, every little bit helps, and “it didn’t cost us anything,” Cornell said.

The School Board and the Hamburg Teachers Association agreed to change the school day in the five-year contract approved last September. A committee, which included faculty and staff as well as parents and transportation representatives, was created last fall to study how to implement the extended day, and the School Board approved its recommendation earlier this month.

Elementary schools will start at 8:50 a.m. and dismiss at 3 p.m. First period at the middle school will start at 7:40 a.m., and the day will end at 2:20 p.m., which is 24 minutes fewer than this year. The high school will start first period at 7:35 a.m. and dismiss at 2:20 p.m., a reduction of 10 minutes. The current elementary school day is one of the shortest in the area, while the middle school day is one of the longest, Cornell said. Increasing time at an earlier age will help give students a stronger foundation, he said, and he’s not concerned about losing time at the middle school, since the new schedule will offer more for sixth-graders.

“To us, it’s really a shift in investing that time upfront,” he said.

The district will standardize times at its four elementary schools, which vary a bit today. In addition to increasing time at the elementary level, the day was rearranged to help reduce interruptions for teachers. That means special subjects, such as art, will be realigned, said Colleen B. Kaney, assistant superintendent of student services, curriculum and instruction.

“They have uninterrupted time with these kids, that was something the elementary level wanted,” said board member Sally A. Stephenson, who was the board’s representative on the committee.

The district also will be changing the schedule for sixth-graders, Kaney said, adding that there will be an extra, flexible period for additional math or English language arts instruction.

“It really will enhance the learning of our sixth-graders to have that,” Cornell said. “It might not seem like a lot, but it is a huge deal for sixth-grade teachers.”

Kaney said the district wanted to give parents and staff plenty of time to plan for the new times. “It will be a shift for families,” she said, “and we certainly wanted to be thoughtful about that.”