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The Boston Globe

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Needham

Needham considers extending school time

Needham school officials are hoping to extend younger students’ school days by adding 25 minutes of instruction at the elementary school level and 10 minutes at the middle schools, according to a proposal sent to parents last week.

If approved, Needham would implement the new schedule next fall, Superintendent Daniel Gutekanst said on Monday. School Committee officials said a property tax increase through a Proposition 2½ override would likely be needed to pay for the initiative.

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The additional instruction time at the elementary level, which translates to 75 extra hours over the school year, would allow for expanded courses in physical education, Spanish, the arts, technology, and robotics and engineering, district officials said.

“In comparison to what students now have available at the elementary level, this proposal is a significant improvement and will expand opportunities in each grade level while keeping time on learning in core academic classes the same,” according to a report issued by a study committee this month.

However, students would lose a small amount of time in art class to make the new schedule work, it states.

At the middle school level, the additional 10 minutes would support the existing curriculum by giving teachers more time to preview lessons and assign work. The cumulative 30 extra hours per year will also make Needham competitive with schools in neighboring communities, according to the report.

Although the proposal does not tack on time to Needham High School’s day, officials suggested that the high school do away with half-days for professional development, opting instead for teachers to have collaborative hourlong morning meetings once a week that would push the school start back to 8:35 a.m. on those days from the usual 8 a.m.

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“There exists a need to provide consistent and common planning time for high school teachers and administrators to work together to maximize teaching and learning,” the report states.

However, the extended school days would come with a price tag: hiring 9 to 13 new elementary teachers could cost the district up to $715,000. The district would also have to hire more crossing guards, pay any fees associated with changing the bus schedule, set aside money for teaching assistants and union negotiations, and invest in new curriculum materials and classroom adjustments.

If the School Committee endorses the proposal, the costs would be added to the district’s budget for the next fiscal year, which is being drafted this fall and winter.

School Committee chairman Joseph Barnes said Monday that the town would likely need an override to pay for the program.

“Those things can’t be rolled into the operating budget, so we recognize that when Dr. Gutekanst comes back with final costs associated with the program, we will have to go with an operational override,” Barnes said.

Barnes said if School Committee members decide to adopt the program — and he said the board is leaning toward it — he was optimistic Needham residents would support the extra funding needed.

“I think this is something that would be very appealing to parents,” Barnes said. “I think a well-designed override plan would go over well with the citizens.”

The School Committee will decide on whether to implement the initiative after Gutekanst proposes his budget in December, which would include a final figure for the program. The superintendent said he was still working on analyzing the total cost.

The next School Committee meeting is slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Broadmeadow School . District officials said community feedback would be welcomed. Call Gutekanst at 781-455-0400, ext. 203, or e-mail him at dan_gutekanst@ needham.k12.ma.us.

Jaclyn Reiss can be reached at jaclyn.reiss@globe.com.

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