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Editorial: Buffalo schools must use the day's extra minutes to educate their students

Here’s an idea how to use the extra 25 minutes of class time Buffalo school officials secured in the district’s new contract with the teachers union: Trim a few minutes off a few classes and add an extra period. Although the decisions have already been made for this year, this is an idea that should be evaluated.

These newly acquired minutes should be treated as educational gold. They offer an opportunity for a struggling school district to add value to the school day.

As it stands, the extra minutes will put the district more in line with others, bringing a relatively short day of 6 hours and 50 minutes up to 7 hours and 15 minutes. The question remains what to do with those precious minutes.

Some proposals may not result in much educational value, such as adding three extra minutes to each period. That’s like frittering away a bonanza on junk food. It has no benefit. Another idea, such as adding a second homeroom, suggests an opportunity to circle back with students and clear up any misunderstandings about assignments – hopefully, not just to sit around and watch the clock.

There is a bottom line, though: School district officials are absolutely right in their insistence that the additional 25 minutes be used for instruction.

The school district invited teachers and administrators to a spring brainstorming session that produced options from which schools can choose. Elementary schools will be required to use the added time for core subjects such as math, English language arts, science and social studies. However, there is “latitude” on how to use the time.

Middle and high schools will be able to use the extra time as a second homeroom focusing on academic assistance or as a student advisory, or both. And then there is the option – a poor one – of adding three minutes to each classroom period for middle and high school students.

Schools have already made decisions on which option to use and followed up with letters to parents. The choices should meet the expectation of providing a richer educational experience and without interruption.

The teachers union, involved in a legal dispute with the district over the change in start times at three schools, thought the agreement allowed for each school to make its own decision that could have included time for teacher planning. These educators should better understand the need to increase the amount of student learning time.

Darren Brown, the district’s chief of staff, had it right. Allow schools to decide based on options presented. Other than that, “… increasing instructional time for students was always what the district intended that time to be used for.”

In an increasingly competitive world, an extra 25 minutes is a golden opportunity that must not be squandered. For the future, an additional class period would be worth considering.

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