Extending Learning Time for Student Success: An Interview with Ron Karsen, Principal of Dayton Street School in Newark, NJ

Extending Learning Time for Student Success: An Interview with Ron Karsen, Principal of Dayton Street School in Newark, NJ

The Department of Education (ED): Explain your model for extended learning time. How did you come to this model, and why do you think it has been successful?

Principal Ron Karsen (RK): I’ve been an educator for quite a few years. I’ve worked in a high school, elementary school, and at the central office. Throughout my work, it’s always been assumed that students will achieve more if they have more time in class. We tried things like afterschool and Saturday and morning programs. But when I looked at the outcomes-based data, I saw that we didn’t get the biggest bang with that kind of approach. There was just a whole litany of variables that worked against what these programs were trying to achieve through more learning time.

When we received the SIG funds, we were awarded a nice chunk of money. So we sat down as a school community with all the stakeholders and set some goals for ourselves. The first and most important goal is student achievement. To get there, I needed to put highly effective teachers in front of my kids every day who could teach written curriculum and align it to spoken curriculum. We wanted to make sure we had sound instructional practices. Of course, this was easier to say than do, especially when the teachers were leaving at 3 p.m.

We decided that we needed to build in more time for content areas during the day and also support teachers and help build their content capacity. To build in more time, we changed the whole school day: now, it’s from 8:35 a.m. to 4:35 p.m. every day. We doubled the time for math, doubled the time for language arts, and ensured that students had the opportunity to take an hour of science and social studies every day.

Now that I had more time for my kids in the classroom, I thought, how do I support teachers? With extended time and the addition of support staff, we were able to provide more time for teachers away from the classroom. The extended learning schedule gives teachers an additional three hours a week for collaborative planning, both horizontally and vertically. Teachers have more time to meet, and we built in content-based, job-embedded professional development. We have coaches, master teachers from Seton Hall University, and two content practitioners who spend time with every teacher, planning with them, doing demo lessons, and reflection sessions – it’s built so that teachers become practitioners.

In summary, throughout the year, we give kids extra time, support for teachers, and time for planning for teachers. We build professional learning communities, engage in content-based dialogue, and monitor teachers more frequently with spot observations from the administration. It’s only been one year, so we are in the early stages of transformation.

ED: What is the buy-in currently among teachers for these changes? How did you encourage buy-in?

RK: Last year, when we applied for the grant, we talked through the components of the grant and asked each teacher about extending learning time. Out of the entire staff, only two people couldn’t do it – and that was because of personal reasons or obligations.

My first year at the school, we spent a lot of time on building the climate and the culture. It made buy-in of the changes for SIG easier.

Our district hasn’t bought into incentive pay, but through the SIG award, I had some extra money for supplies. As a teacher incentive, I opened up a mini-grant process where teachers could apply for funds to support a small project. This increased buy-in among teachers. We were able to fund extra supplies for teachers who developed enrichment programs.  One teacher even did a videography program focused on children’s literature and satire and it was amazing.

In some classes, you can see phenomenal, wonderful things happening. Some classes, you have to sit on and provide more support and coaches. Sometimes that works. I still have a couple of teachers who have not bought in completely. But I will continue to push and work, and if I still don’t see the changes, I’ll have to have a serious conversation with the teachers about next steps.

ED: Have you seen progress during the year?

RK: Throughout the year, we have used interim benchmarks and have seen at least 20 percent growth in about 75% of our students from the first administration to the second. However, our real measure of success is determined by the State Assessment, NJASK, the results of which are received in the summer after the school year ends. We are confident that based on our interim benchmark growth, the positive results will also be seen in the state assessment.

ED: What have you learned from your experiences this year? What will you change next year?

RK: We will make changes to the type of job-embedded professional development provided to teachers. This year, we made it a choice where we allowed teachers to choose an area of improvement. Also, depending on the how the coach and the teacher interacted, sometimes good professional development happened and sometimes it didn’t. 

Next year, the administration will provide focus for professional development. We also want to have fewer coachesand have the good coaches work with teachers more. Starting at our summer institute, we will build on one instructional framework so that everyone is having the same conversation. We will look at alignment, student engagement, and purpose. The coach will focus on all of those areas. 

ED: How sustainable are the changes you’ve made this year?

RK: We’re working to change a culture and the way we instruct, and SIG gave us the resources for us to do that. If we didn’t have the funds, we couldn’t do the teacher incentives anymore and we couldn’t sustain the extended day – money is needed for those things. 

But the bottom line is that if I can guarantee quality instruction, then I won’t need the extended time. I can then say I’m comfortable with what my kids are doing every day. I’ve done shadow days with my students, and there’s a lot of time wasted during the school day. If there’s quality instruction, we’ll be able to use the time we have to get the work done.

The way I see it, I’m working to get out of extended learning time. We’re building to move out of the School Improvement Grant, so we won’t need it anymore.

For more information on Dayton Street School’s extended learning time model, please contact Ron Karsen at RKarsen@NPS.K12.NJ.US