The Grand Canyon State on a Mission

This is a guest post from NCTL's Director of Communications & External Affairs, Blair Brown

So often when you work in public policy, you hear about what can’t be done.  It’s easy to get caught up in the barriers, how hard something will be, and who will be against it, rather than the opportunities of change, and what is in fact possible. 
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to sit down with some Arizona superintendents who don’t see barriers and are willing to challenge the status quo all in the hopes of providing a better education for their students. They are leaders who want to give their students more academic time without sacrificing time for science and social studies, arts and athletics. And so, they have – or are – finding ways to expand learning time.
Charlotte Boyle expanded the school day in all nine of the schools in her district – the Creighton Elementary School District– outside Phoenix, Arizona three years ago. Creighton’s day is now 7 hours and 40 minutes for all students and includes pull-out interventions for students and enrichment time. In a district that is over 90% high-poverty, Boyle has also experimented with holding sessions during vacation blocks, but her challenge is in attendance – the students who really need it, she told me, are not the ones who are showing up. But by expanding the day, she knows she’s reaching all of her students. 
Jeff Smith also knew he wanted to expand learning time in his school district. For the Balsz Elementary School District #31, though, it made more sense to expand the school year to 200 days as a first step, and they have seen great gains, with impressive jumps thus far in reading. Smith reports that his kindergarten students will receive an additional year of school by 8th grade. In fact, Smith and the Balsz School Board were honored by the National School Boards Association for their work on this effort as a 2012 Magna Award winner.
In talking with these superintendents, it reinforced what we here at NCTL already know - the path to expanded learning time is not always easy. From school boards to parents, teachers to transportation, there are many pieces to the puzzle that need to be worked out if an expanded school schedule is going to be successful. Like many leaders across the country, these leaders wanted to be sure of two things: first and foremost, would the time be well-used for their students? And second, could they make this schedule work for their teachers?
But even in grappling with those issues, they did not stop, slow down or even pause. They did not lose the vision of what can be. They all decided that their schedule, in place for students of yesterday, was not doing enough for their students of today. So they started anew. And with that, they’re starting to alter the whole landscape.