Extended learning time brings hurdles for NM schools

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Time constraints, eligibility requirements and what one school leader calls a “moving target” are creating obstacles for schools in New Mexico to opt into extended learning time programs.

Extended learning time, which was allocated about $62 million in state money during this year’s legislative session, lengthens the school year by 10 days, boosts professional development time for teachers and creates academic after-school opportunities or extracurricular programs.

The idea is to ramp up the time kids spend learning, but not all schools are on board.

Albuquerque Public Schools said Monday that about 20 of its schools will feature the program – eight will offer it campuswide, and 10 to 12 will provide it for part of their student populations.

The eight schools fully employing the program will start the 2019-20 school year on July 29, and the district will release more details on the others in the coming days.

However, the state Public Education Department approved funding for many more schools – more than 100 in APS – to offer the program, according to the PED.

Antonio Gonzales, APS associate superintendent for leadership and learning for Zone 2, said that by applying for more than 100 schools, the district kept the opportunity on the table for campuses across the district. He said the district had only about six days to complete extended learning time applications.

“We applied for these schools with the hopes that we would give our communities, our teachers, our principals a little bit more time to plan accordingly before solidifying plans,” he said.

Deputy Education Secretary Katarina “Kata” Sandoval said unused extended learning program money will revert back to the PED.

While awaiting determinations from the PED, school officials looked at whether there were enough teachers and staffers and whether they could develop and deploy extended learning programs in the coming months.

After reviewing feasibility and community interest, Gonzales said, only about 20 APS schools are planning on using the state dollars to implement extended learning time.

He said there were various reasons more schools didn’t take part.

“Community input, timing, feeling ready. Those are some of the leading reasons that come to mind,” he said.

Gonzales added that the time constraints were a hindrance.

“It was a trick, the time to be able to get these programs out. That’s not to say we aren’t interested in future opportunities. We have been working with the PED,” he said. “But in terms of the new school year, time was really one of the constraints.”

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who co-sponsored a bill that outlines extended learning, said the timing of the legislative session creates tight schedules.

“We always run into this problem, especially a 60-day session because we do a short turnaround for the next year,” Stewart said. “There are going to be some wrinkles.”

Gonzales said he expects more schools to offer extended learning programs in the future.

Other schools also reported facing obstacles to extended learning time.

For instance, charters that follow calendars outside the traditional 180 days have run into issues.

Erik Bose, executive director of Albuquerque Charter Academy, thought his school, which is on a four-day school week, would qualify for extended learning time funding.

The blended learning high school has 169 instructional days in the year, Bose said. Requirements for extended learning in Senate Bill 1 say a school in a district on the four-day week timeline needs to have 160 days per school year.

But Bose ended up not applying, saying he was told he would have to increase his existing calendar by 10 days above the current level.

“We couldn’t do that. We wouldn’t have a summer,” he said.

Stewart said the legislative intent of the bill was not necessarily to meet a certain number of days but to increase existing school calendars.

“The idea is to extend the school year you have,” she said.

With the aim of qualifying for the state funding, Bose said, his school is planning on going to 159 instructional days in the 2019-20 school year.

“We kind of have to take a back step,” he said.

This will give the school a chance to establish a 159-day baseline.

Then, in the 2020-21 school year, the Albuquerque Charter Academy will seek state dollars to get back on the 169-day calendar, Bose said.

In Gallup, Rob Hunter, CEO of Middle College High School, said he feels like he is in “limbo.”

Hunter said he is waiting to hear whether his charter school was approved for the funding. He is planning to increase his 168-day calendar by 10 days.

“We’ve applied for it, but it’s been a moving target,” he said.

He said the requirements for the program have been unclear for schools that aren’t on a traditional calendar.

“I think they are operating with the mind-set of a traditional school,” he said.”It’s really hard for an innovative school, if you don’t follow your very traditional schedule.”

Sandoval said she believes the PED has been clear.

“We’ve been very consistent in terms of the requirements: 10 additional days, 80 hours of professional development, and then the after-school programs. As long as they have those things, then they could qualify,” she said.

Hunter said he is considering the program for about 70 kids for the coming year.

“We have at-risk students that can benefit from this,” he said.

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