Big Island schools to see longer days


Hawaii Island public schools are changing class schedules for the next academic year to comply with state laws requiring more instructional time for students.

But without further funding from the state, Department of Education officials say doing so will require cutting time from other activities, such as lunch, recess and periods between classes. And some schools said even with cuts in other areas, they don’t know how they’ll meet the requirements.

The increases in instructional time were signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2011 following a series of furloughs that resulted in Hawaii students having the fewest number of instruction days in the country. Public outcry led legislators to design a plan to incrementally increase the amount of instructional time provided to students at each school.

Schools are now well into that process, and had some trouble altering their schedules while not running afoul of limitations on teacher instructional time as negotiated in the most recent collective bargaining agreement with the Hawaii State Teachers Association. That agreement is in force through 2017.

In a report presented to legislators this session, the Department of Education requested legislators suspend the requirement for schools to increase instructional time to 1,080 hours a year beginning in school year 2016-17. Currently, students receive 915 hours of instructional time a year.

“It is a challenge for schools to meet the … requirements in the context of the current (collective bargaining agreement with teachers) and budget,” the report states.

“Schools are currently preparing their schedules for (school year) 2014-15. For secondary schools, this includes an increase to 990 hours (or 1,650 minutes a week). While this is likely manageable, the Department will not be able to assess the challenges or feasibility until schools submit their schedules in February 2014 and request for contract exceptions and waivers in March 2014.”

In a phone interview Wednesday, Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area Superintendent Art Souza said he thought five of the 19 schools in his complex would be applying for waivers after having difficulty meeting the instruction time requirements.

“What we’ve found in the work that our schools have done up until now has been that the elementary schools have had the ability to accomodate the minutes and the changes, but it’s become very, very difficult for secondary schools to do the same,” he said.

Kalanianaole Elementary and Intermediate School Principal Lauren O’Leary agreed.

As a school offering classes for grades K-8, O’Leary said her staff and faculty were thrown a bit of a curve ball in comparison with other schools, but they did eventually find solutions to making more instructional time for their students.

“It (the schedule) was just approved by our School Community Council, and now it’s been submitted to our state office,” she said. “There was not a lot of wiggle room. … I think this was very creative problem solving on behalf of my faculty. They really worked hard on this. Being a K-8 school, we had to get concessions from everyone. From the transportation supervisor, the cafeteria. … Everyone had to work together to make sure we’d be doing this right.”

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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