A longer day at Fiske

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Fiske Elementary in Woodlawn is one of 13 schools that opted to introduce a longer school day beginning in September 2011. As a “pioneer,” Fiske Principal Cynthia Miller and her staff were able to design their own schedule without any constraints. But CPS leadership has signaled that when the longer day of 7 hours and 30 minutes launches district-wide, schools will have to allot a specific amount of time for teaching each subject. For the 1st grade, the district has announced that it will require 6 hours and 30 minutes of instruction, with a minimum of 4 hours and 10 minutes to be distributed as follows: reading and writing (2 hours), math (1 hour), science (40 minutes), and social studies (30 minutes). The remaining time can be distributed at the school’s discretion among core subjects and the arts, as well as a mandatory lunch and recess period.

Some parents and school staff are not sure their children need the extra time. At a January 25th Board of Education meeting, parents from 6.5 to Thrive, an advocacy group that endorses a 6-1/2 hour school day, voiced concerns. In the public participation section of the meeting, 6.5 to Thrive parent Tracy Baldwin advocated for a shorter school day. Baldwin said her organization had collected more than 900 petition signatures asking CPS to aim for 6-1/2 hours, not 7-1/2 hours.

Later at that meeting, after presenting the plan for what the district is calling the “Full School Day,” Chief Instruction Officer Jennifer Cheatham addressed the concerns parents raised. “We worked hard around designing the 7-1/2 hour day parameters around best practices,” she said. “We are thinking seriously about it.”

Jacquelyn Sticca, a 1st-grade teacher at Fiske, says it works for her. On January 18th, Catalyst visited Sticca’s classroom to see the longer day in action.