Could longer days be coming for PBC elementary schools?

A student heads to class at The Conservatory School at North Palm Beach for the first day of school last year.
A student heads to class at The Conservatory School at North Palm Beach. (File photo)

The six-hour days at Palm Beach County’s elementary schools may need to be longer in order to improve student performance, Superintendent Robert Avossa said Wednesday.

Avossa told school board members that his administration is researching the possibility of extending the elementary classes by a half-hour in future years.

“We have one of the shortest elementary school days in the state of Florida at six hours,” he told board members. “When you multiply that over the course of 180 days, you can see that quickly adds up.”

In an interview, Avossa said that there are no immediate plans to lengthen classes countywide. But he said that keeping the school day as short as it is means too many lost hours.

Even lengthening the day by 15 minutes, he said, could mean an extra 45 hours a year of teaching time.

Palm Beach School Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with 2nd-grade student Sarah Walker, 8, as she eats breakfast at Lincoln Elementary School Monday, August 17, 2015. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach School Superintendent Robert Avossa talks with a 2nd-grade student at Lincoln Elementary School. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

“Forty-five hours of instruction could mean the different between a kid meeting a (learning) threshold or not,” he said.

The county’s standard elementary school day – technically 6 hours and 5 minutes – is in line with neighboring Broward County, he said.

But Orange and Hillsborough counties run classes for 6 hours and 15 minutes, he said. And Duval and Miami-Dade counties extend the school day to 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Central Florida’s Lake County runs elementary school even longer — for 6 hours and 50 minutes, he added.

But extending the school day across the county could be expensive. Kathi Gundlach, president of the county’s public teachers union, says that lengthening teachers’ classroom hours would require renegotiating teacher pay.

“They would have to pay for the extended time,” she said. “It would have to be negotiated. if they have a substantial salary increase, it could be discussed.”

The county is extending the school day by 30 minutes at 20 elementary schools to comply with a state law that requires extra reading instruction at the 300 schools with the worst reading test scores statewide. Teachers at those schools receive extra pay.

But administrators have said that adding the extra time at those schools, then removing it later when the schools fall off the Low 300 list, creates a “yo-yo effect” that makes steady improvement difficult.

Avossa said that lengthening the school day isn’t the end-all. Research suggests that longer school days do little to improve student learning if the time isn’t used properly, he said.

But he says it’s an idea that administrators are pursuing aggressively and have already broached with the county teachers union.

“We’re studying it,” he said, “but we’re a long way from making any recommendations.”

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