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Districts onboard with a longer school year

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Deven Melendez and Samantha Chavez in Mary Proue’s third-grade class at César Chávez Elementary in Santa Fe. Proposals call for lengthening the school year in New Mexico. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is aiming to extend the school year, and school districts are on board as long as there’s funding for it.

In her budget recommendation for the fiscal year starting in July, Lujan Grisham suggested putting in an additional $18.7 million to add three school days to the academic year.

That would make the school year 183 days.

The Legislative Finance Committee also pushed for an extended school year – 10 days longer – with the aim to ramp up professional development time for educators.

Some of the state’s largest districts see the benefits of added time for both instruction and for teacher training.

Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica Garcia said additional professional development days built into the school year would result in more instructional time, too.

“The more days we are given for professional development will actually help increase instructional time, because you aren’t using typical instruction time for that professional development,” she told the Journal.

And she said professional development will be even more crucial in the coming months since the state is expected to implement new curriculum or other remedies because of a landmark education court ruling.

The superintendent says it’s too early to say how those additional days will be structured in SFPS, but she hopes any state requirements are flexible enough for school districts to cater the days to their students’ needs. For instance, some districts may want that time for an extension of common core, while others may want to use that time for supplemental learning in other areas.

Overall, she called the initiative positive.

“For all students to receive three instructional days would be very positive,” she said.

Ultimately, though, she stressed that this would have to come with additional funding.

“We could not do this with current funding,” she said. “But we believe the governor’s proposal would come with new dollars.”

Las Cruces Public Schools officials echoed Garcia, rallying behind the idea of a longer school year while hoping the Legislature includes financial support.

Las Cruces Public Schools spokesman Damien Willis said that Superintendent Greg Ewing believes that adding instructional time would benefit students.

“He completely supports the ideas set forth by the new administration and applauds the governor for her progressive vision and zeal for making substantive improvements in public education,” Willis said.

But he said it’s too early to estimate the cost to the district.

“While it is still too early to know what direct and indirect costs might come from extending the school year, we are hopeful that legislators would take that into account,” Willis said.

Rio Rancho Public Schools spokeswoman Beth Pendergrass said RRPS is particularly keen to have more professional development days.

Albuquerque Public Schools spokeswoman Monica Armenta declined to comment, saying the district doesn’t typically speak on bills and recommendations still in motion.

The Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine studied the effects of extended school years in 2009.

This research said that a longer school year doesn’t guarantee a better education, highlighting a quality-over-quantity issue.

“Improving the quality of instructional time is at least as important as increasing the quantity of time in school,” the study said.

The research also suggests that lengthening the school day would result in more learning time than an extended year.

In the same vein, James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, said that adding more days “makes sense,” especially for children who don’t get learning opportunities at home.

But it’ll take more than that to get better results, he added.

He also emphasized the funding component.

“It’s also going to take more revenue – and it needs to be a more reliable revenue stream than oil and natural gas. If we don’t stabilize our revenue situation, we’ll just have to cut some of these initiatives when oil and gas prices go down. You can’t expect real education reform on a boom-or-bust funding cycle,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.


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