See which Lexington elementary wants to try a longer school day, year

Harrison Elementary wants to try an extended school day and a longer academic year while being the first school in Lexington to adopt a model called the Promise Academy to improve achievement.

The Fayette County school board will vote next week on a plan in which Harrison’s school day would change this fall from an 8:25 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. schedule to a 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. schedule four days a week. Wednesday’s schedule would be the same as most other elementary schools in Lexington, which start at 7:45 a.m. and end at 2:35 p.m.

The school’s academic year would begin several days earlier in August and end in June instead of in May when other Fayette schools will end for the year. That would give Harrison 190 days in a school year instead of 177 days, said district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall. She said there are no other Fayette elementary schools that currently have the alternative calendar proposed.

Because of low scores on statewide tests, Harrison is one of seven schools in Fayette County designated by the Kentucky Department of Education as in need of comprehensive support and improvement. With the exception of 2016-17 fifth grade math, scores were below the state average in all content areas and at all grade levels for two consecutive years, a recent state diagnostic review, or audit, found.

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said the recommendation is that Harrison, with its high number of poor students, would be transformed into what is being tentatively called a “Promise Academy,” so named to help children expand their learning opportunities. Eventually, there would be other promise academies in Fayette County.

“We know that children living in poverty are coming to school with less resources. In order to catch them up and then push them to go further, you need more time,” said Deffendall. “It’s a completely different model of instruction.”

At a Thursday night school board meeting, Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk said he did not want to hear that students “don’t have the wherewithal to endure a longer school day.” He noted that students were already staying after 5 p.m. two days a week to attend the schools’ accelerated learning lab.

Schuronda Morton, interim chief of staff and senior director of school leadership, said Thursday that Harrison’s school day would extend to eight hours Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesdays, the school’s current hours — not quite seven hours — will not change.

The regular elementary calendar has 1,091 instructional hours. Harrison would have 1, 426 instructional hours. The school board would have to vote to ask the state Education Department to approve the plan.

In a “Promise Academy,” students would get foreign language, arts, and extra intervention in addition to basic subjects. Toward the end of the day, children would get a snack, recess and personalized learning, mentoring and enrichment activities.

“We can’t wait until tomorrow, the time is now to do what’s right,” Morton said.

Teachers would be compensated for the extra days and the extended time they spend at school, and the district expects to recruit additional “passionate, hardworking” educators to work in the promise academies, said Jennifer Dyar, district director of Human Resources.

Harrison principal Tammie Franks said the school revised its mission after the state audit.

“Our school is a family and when you are a family, you aren’t afraid to try,” she said. Franks said teachers were getting more training to apply new techniques.

The other schools identified as needing comprehensive support and Improvement under the state’s new rating system were Arlington, Mary Todd, Millcreek, William Wells Brown, Yates and Coventry Oak.

Each of those schools will have a turnaround plan, but district officials did not immediately say which schools would become promise academies.

Key to improving the schools, district officials said, is to work with the community to help families in crisis whose children attend the low-performing schools and help the neighborhoods in stress that surround the schools. The high poverty neighborhoods are largely near each other downtown and in parts of north Lexington.