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More Hillsborough schools to add extra hour

— Starting this fall, Florida will triple the number of elementary schools that must extend their days by an hour in an attempt to improve students’ reading skills.

Today, 100 schools statewide stay the extra hour, with 11 of them in Hillsborough County. That number grows to 300 with action this spring by the Florida Legislature.

The district won’t know for sure which schools are on the list until next month, about the time school grades are issued. This could throw a wrench into the district’s effort to predict expenses for the coming year, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia warned school board members during a budget workshop Tuesday.

“It is very clear that no additional funding came in for this,” Elia said. “It is an unfunded mandate that must be followed.”

When the extended-day initiative started in the 2012-13 school year, eight Hillsborough schools were on the list. Three of those schools — Just, Potter and Washington elementaries — had already added an extra hour of reading.

That year, the initiative cost the district $2.5 million, money it took from supplemental academic instruction, said Jeff Eakins, deputy superintendent. Added costs include paying for teachers and staff to stay an extra hour every day.

Hillsborough, the eighth-largest district in the nation, is set to receive a total of $987 million in state money next year, an increase of $44.2 million over this year. The district has about $39,500 tentatively allocated for supplemental academic instruction, which is slightly more than last year.

The eight schools grew to 11 in 2013-14, and Eakins anticipates the local number will at least double this fall.

The Hillsborough schools with extended days this year were Broward, Burney, Dover, James, Just, Oak Park, Potter, Ruskin, Shaw, Sheehy and Sulphur Springs. Pinellas County has seven schools on the list. Miami-Dade County has the most, with 22.

Aside from the direct costs, district and school officials will need to scramble to reorganize bus routes and bell schedules. Teachers won’t know their schedules until just weeks before school starts.

“I think everyone would attest providing additional instruction for students is a good thing,” Eakins said. “Adding an extra hour does create fiscal challenges. It disrupts a lot of the logistics, especially when you’re a large system that incorporates transportation systems.”

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District officials are crunching the numbers this summer to see which schools might end up on the list when it increases to 300. Generally, the Florida Department of Education uses a formula that takes into account the percentage of students at a school deemed proficient in reading, as well as the gains a school made.

“It’s all relative to how your schools are doing compared to schools in the state,” Eakins said.

At Hillsborough schools currently on extended days, more than 60 percent of students are not proficient in reading. Most of the schools have received a grade of D or F from the Florida Department of Education.

But most have seen improvements in their students’ scores at some levels on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Students at Dover, Ruskin and Sulphur Springs elementaries improved their reading scores in grades three through five this year.

Potter Elementary, an F school, is the only one in the group that saw reading scores in those grades drop this year. Just 18 percent of the fifth-graders at Potter passed the reading portion of FCAT.

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The biggest improvement at Dover Elementary was a 10 percentage point jump in fifth-grade FCAT reading scores: 38 percent of the fifth-graders passed, compared with 28 percent in 2013.

“It’s not just with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders,” said Principal Kayla Forcucci. “We see that proficiency also increasing with our primary students. All around, that extended reading time has been a benefit to our students.”

At Dover, which serves many migrant families, nearly 90 percent of the school’s students are learning English.

It’s the biggest challenge teachers there face, Forcucci said.

Switching to a longer school day was an adjustment for teachers and students last fall.

“It’s always a shock when you first hear you’re going to have a longer day,” Forcucci said. “We chose to look at it as a gift. Now we get to have more time with our kids.”

Forcucci doesn’t know if Dover will be on the list of extended-day schools in the fall, so she is “double-planning” by designing two schedules.

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