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Top schools have longer days

Cari Winkler helps  3rd grade students Morgan Brooks Maddy DeWoskwith  reading  Braeside School HighlPark.   |

Cari Winkler helps 3rd grade students, Morgan Brooks and Maddy DeWoskin with reading at Braeside School in Highland Park. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: October 30, 2012 4:27PM

The 10 highest-ranking suburban neighborhood elementary schools all have longer days for kids than the typical Chicago public school — but shorter ones than those advocated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city public school officials.

Chicago’s current typical 5-hour and 45-minute elementary school day — usually without a regular recess — looks paltry compared to a top-scoring 2011 suburban average of just under 6½ hours that includes daily recess, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis indicates.

However, Chicago’s proposed 7½-hour day would keep city elementary kids in school an hour more than their top-scoring suburban counterparts. Such a day is appealing even to some suburban parents.

“I’m all in,” said Beth Bernat, co-president of the Parent Teacher Organization at Highland Park’s Braeside School, the highest-scoring neighborhood elementary school in the state, based on a Sun-Times analysis of average scores on 2011 Illinois Standards Achievement Tests released Monday.

“The more education time, the better,” said Bernat, mother of a Braeside fourth- and first-grader. “At this age, they are all sponges.”

At Braeside — a stunning Prairie-style stucco and limestone structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, school officials attribute their successful program in part to the addition three years ago of a unique 30-minute “intervention block” at least four days a week. During that half hour, kids are divided up for special help, or extra acceleration, in reading or math. Some stay in their regular classrooms for the added attention; others are pulled out.

An expert team dives into periodic data from the Measures of Academic Progress test purchased by North Shore District 112 to determine who needs what help.

“We don’t really worry too much about the [Illinois Standards Achievement Test] meeting or exceeding [cutoffs],” said Braeside Principal Patricia Kritzman. “We are looking at, ‘Are the children, no matter where they are, growing at the expected rate?’ ”

To squeeze in the intervention block, Kritzman said, teachers have been urged to be “very conscious of instructional minutes” and “get rid of the fluff,” such as daily class meetings and excessive student time spent packing and unpacking materials for the day.

But for some Braeside kids, the best part of the day is daily physical education — a class most CPS kids get only once a week. In a gymnasium adorned with one of the school’s six stone fireplaces, students learn sports skills, hone their upper body strength on a climbing wall, and play games that work on team-building.

“I like gym. It keeps you going for the whole day,” said Braeside fifth-grader Shelby Auerbach. After phys ed, she said, “I feel refreshed. My brain is ready to work.”

From Chicago to Houston to Massachusetts, schools are experimenting with longer school days as pressure mounts for them to produce on tests. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union is contesting the way CPS is implementing a longer-day pilot that will set the template for next school year’s longer day. Groups have rallied in favor as well as against the longer-day pilot.

Proponents say Chicago’s school day is shorter than that of its urban counterparts and its overwhelmingly low-income kids need the added time on task. A survey by the Chicago parent group Raise Your Hand indicates more than two-thirds of respondents wanted as longer school day, but 83 percent wanted something shorter than the proposed 7½ hours. Adding extras, such as recess, gym and the arts, were a priority.

River Forest School District 90 tacked on 40 minutes to its six-hour 15-minute day for kids this school year, in part to expand its phys ed classes from four to five days a week, but also to pad out math, science and social studies, said Pam Hyde, principal of the district’s Lincoln School, the sixth-highest-scoring elementary neighborhood school in the state.

“We had a short day compared to other districts,” said Hyde. With the new nearly 7-hour day, which also boosted teacher pay, Hyde said Lincoln teachers are now saying, “I feel like I have enough time to do what I was trying to do last year, and I feel peaceful about it.”

It’s not just the school day that’s longer in top-scoring elementary schools. Last school year they required, on average nearly five more days of school per year. If Chicago expands its school year from 170 to 180 days, as proposed for next year, it would be five days longer than the average top-scoring suburban neighborhood elementary school.

Highly ranked suburban schools also carry the advantage of smaller class sizes — an average of just under 20 in third-grade compared to 25.5 in a typical CPS third-grade classroom last school year. At Braeside, said Principal Kritzman, “Our parents in this community — and this district — have always supported small class size.”

Renaud Beaudoin said he noticed the difference more time makes when he left his post as principal of Chicago’s Newberry Academy over a year ago to become principal of Evanston’s Orrington Elementary, also among the top 10 neighborhood schools in the six-county area. At Orrington, the school day for kids runs 6 hours and 30 minutes.

“I always thought the [5-hour, 45-minute] school day was too short,” said Beaudoin. But 7½ hours? “That’s a long time,” Beaudoin said. “Some kids are worn out now by 12 o’clock, especially in kindergarten and first grade.”

Orrington’s 6-hour, 30-minute day is good not only for kids but for teachers, Beaudoin said.

“They get a chance to meet together, to take a break, to get some quiet time so they can rejuvenate themselves for the afternoon,” Beaudoin said. “That extra time allows teachers to collaborate. I think it’s good. It creates a dynamic system that regenerates itself.”

Adding up the school day and year

Chicago's typical elementary school day is 5 hours and 45 minutes long, with no recess and 170 attendance days. CPS officials are proposing a 7-1/2 hour day, with daily recess, and 180 attendance days for next school year. Here's how Chicago's typical day compares to top suburban neighborhood elementary schools, which all have daily recess.

State 2011 rank Name City DistrictSchool day for kidsTotal attend days
7 Braeside Highland Park North Shore SD 112 6 hr 37 min 175
12 Highlands Naperville Naperville CUSD 203 6 hr 15 min 174
13 Romona Wilmette Wilmette SD 39 6 hr 20 min 175
15 Grove Ave. Barrington Barrington CUSD 220 6 hr 40 min 174
16 Half Day Lincolnshire Lincolnshire-Praireview SD 103 6 hr 15 min 176
17 Lincoln* River Forest River Forest SD 90 6 hr 15 min 174
18 Ravinia Highland Park North Shore SD 112 6 hr 37 min 175
20 Brook Forest Oak Brook Butler SD 53 6 hr 40 min 175
22 Orrington Evanston Evanston CCSD 65 6 hr 30 min 176
24 Kildeer Long Grove Kildeer Countryside CCSD 96 6 hr 35 min 175
Average 6 hr 28 min 174.9

* 6 hr 55 min school day this school year

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